House Speaker Brendan Sharkey left the door open to tax increases but also called for a new approach to funding government services.
“We have to fundamentally change the system by which we fund our state government and local government,” Sharkey said Thursday. “We have to change the paradigm of how the property tax is the dominant tax in the state.”
Sharkey was one of several speakers at a state budget forum at the Capitol hosted by Connecticut Voices for Children, an education and advocacy group.
Like Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Sharkey did not unilaterally take tax hikes off the table.
“I think they should be an absolute last resort and I’m not in favor of tax increases next year,” said Sharkey, a Democrat from Hamden. “I don’t think in this environment we can rule anything out in part because our world changed last month and that is a reality that I think we [all] have to face.”
UPDATE: John McKinney, the Republican leader in the state Senate, said he’s happy to hear that Sharkey believes tax increases should be a last resort.
“One of the problems we’ve had in the legislature is an unwillingess to reduce spending in any area,” McKinney said. “If the Speaker is willing to say — and the governor is willing to say — we’re not intent on raising taxes, I hope that puts pressure on the Democrats in the legislature [for] the need to look a efficiencies in government so we can provide services for less money.”
During his brief address, Sharkey emphasized the need for major changes to the state’s tax structure, which consists largely of property, sales and income taxes, and made a pitch for new efficiencies at the local level.
“I think we do have to seismically, fundamentally change the way we do taxation in the state of Connecticut and overall, we’ve got to create the priority list of where we want the state to go in terms of its overall economic competitiveness,” Sharkey said.
And it needs to start soon, Sharkey said. “We need to do this year…starting July 1,” he said. ”It’s just been inertia in some cases, resistance in other cases. I’m not going to cast aspersions on the reasons why it doesn’t happen but now is the time it’s got to happen.”
Sharkey had a message to municipal leaders: State government “cannot continue to subsidize to the level that we are and we’re going to need cities and towns to step up and start doing the things we’ve been talking about for the last 10 or 11 years to create efficiencies at the local level”
Sharkey emphasized the need for municipalities to cooperate on a regional basis, noting the often simple barriers to regionalism.
For instance, Sharkey said school bus contracts could be negotiated across town lines, an approach that could net significant savings.
But, he said, ”it’s impossible to out out a contract on a multitown basis because every town has a different school calendar. Why can’t we create regional school calendars? Is life that different between towns that boards of education can’t come together with a common calendar and thereby realize savings on transportation and other things? That doesn’t take money, that just takes some will.”