Connecticut lawmakers clash over proposed ‘mansion tax’ on homes worth more than $430,000

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Christopher Keating, Hartford Courant
·6 min read
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Republican legislators say a Democratic leader’s plan to enact a new property tax on the wealthy will instead target middle class homeowners since it would impose an annual levy on all Connecticut residences worth more than $430,000.

But Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney said Tuesday he considers his proposal a “mansion tax’' that will ensure financial fairness in tough times and raise $73 million per year as part of a package to provide property tax relief for cash-strapped communities like his hometown of New Haven.

The tax would rely largely on collections from the wealthiest towns in Connecticut, including Greenwich, Westport, New Canaan and Darien. It would collect relatively little revenue from much of the state.

But Senate Republican leader Kevin Kelly of Stratford said it is a tax on the middle class across Connecticut.

“What they’re going after are solid, middle-class homes in every community, in every town,’' Kelly said. “No, it’s not a mansion tax. This is going to hit Milford, Manchester, Naugatuck, Hampton, Madison. It will hit all communities. This isn’t like your mansions in southwestern Fairfield County only. A $400,000 home is in every single town. … The facts will show you that’s a middle-class tax.’'

Kelly added, “The solution to every problem is a tax and a bullseye on the middle-class wallet, whether it’s tolls or gas taxes or insurance taxes. Now, it’s just not the wallet. Now, they’re coming after our homes.’'

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Under Looney’s proposal, all homes with an assessed value of $300,000 and a market value of $430,000 would pay no tax. For homes above that level, the first $300,000 of assessment would be tax-free, and they would then pay one mill beyond that level. As a result, Looney said, a home with a market value of $500,000 would pay $50 per year and a home with a market value of $1 million would pay $400 per year.

Gov. Ned Lamont, a longtime Greenwich resident, has told the Connecticut Business and Industry Association and others that he wants to avoid raising taxes on anyone - rich or poor - as the state’s budget outlook has been improving rapidly in recent months. Concerning his views on a statewide mill rate, Lamont said Monday, “I do not think we’re going to need any new broad-based tax increases in this state.”

House Republican leader Vincent Candelora of North Branford said the timing of the tax proposal during the pandemic sends the wrong message as the state budget is finally doing better and generating a small surplus.

The latest statistics on the state budget, released this week by the legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal office, call for a projected surplus in the current fiscal year of $179 million. Analysts are also projecting that the rainy day fund for fiscal emergencies will increase to $3.54 billion after the final surplus is certified.

“When we talk about the surplus and the budget is doing much better, it’s disturbing that we see these type of proposals cropping up - of more taxation on our Connecticut residents and our families 1/4 u201a’’ Candelora said Tuesday. “The legislature is being left amok to focus on any issue under the sun that they so choose and have forgotten the fact that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, where families are suffering. We continue to shed jobs every single month, and these types of proposals are only increasing the anxiety and the temperature in everybody’s household. So I would hope that we would see this proposal summarily rejected.’'

As part of the overall package, Looney is also trying to increase the payments in lieu of taxes, known as PILOT, that towns would receive for tax-exempt property because the community’s fiscal need is not currently calculated.

“Greenwich gets the same percentage reimbursement for Greenwich Hospital property that New Haven gets for Yale-New Haven Hospital property and Hartford gets for Hartford Hospital property,’' Looney said.

Looney said he had not yet held a closed-door caucus to gauge support from his fellow Democrats in the Senate, where Democrats hold a 24-12 margin. Democrats also control the House by 97-54.

Looney rejected various characterizations of his mansion tax plan.

“You have to look at the whole package. It is not an additional tax,’' Looney said. “It is a redistribution of property tax revenue, and many communities will benefit from it ... especially those communities that will receive more PILOT funding.’'

Totals released by the Senate Democrats show that Greenwich residents would pay $21.8 million of the $73.5 million collected annually. The top five towns - Greenwich, Westport, Stamford, Darien, and New Canaan - would pay a combined $44.4 million - more than half of the annual total.

The statistics show that the tax would generate $6.6 million from Westport residents, $5.8 million from Stamford, $5.2 million from Darien and $5.0 million from New Canaan. The projected annual payments by residents would be $741,000 in West Hartford, $238,000 in Glastonbury, $177,000 in Farmington, $155,000 in Avon, and $142,000 in Simsbury.

Recent home sales provide a glimpse of where some of the state’s highest value homes are located. Statewide, statistics show that nearly 13,000 single-family properties were sold in 2020 for at least $430,000. Fairfield County had 7,881 of the property sales above $430,000, while Hartford County had 1,398 sales, according to SmartMLS,Inc., the statewide Multiple Listing Service that covers all eight counties in the state.

In the lowest-priced areas of the state, only 595 single-family properties in New London County sold last year for more than $430,000, compared to 156 in Tolland County and only 66 in Windham County.

The final details of the proposal - which is currently only one sentence long - will be fleshed out in the coming weeks and months by the legislature’s tax-writing finance committee. Prompted by questions from reporters Tuesday, Looney said the tax will likely not have a major impact on renters in apartment buildings. He said it would “probably not’' be imposed on farms and crops as lawmakers want to encourage farming across the state.

When asked about commercial properties, Looney said, “We wanted to address the great disparity in residential property, which is where the real crisis is in the state.’'

Courant staff writer Kenneth Gosselin contributed to this report.

Christopher Keating can be reached at ckeating @courant.com.