Smart Growth for Vernon, CT

Sprawl bonus


Journal Inquirer
January 29, 2005

[Note: this is one part of a three part editorial entitled "Judge Lopez, sprawl bonus, and politically correct disease."]

Chris Powell


Where are the liberals and environmentalists when you need them?

Lt. Gov. Kevin B. Sullivan, generally considered both, has endorsed legislation to allow municipalities to keep part of the sales tax revenue generated within their borders. The claim is that towns that have commercial development need extra help from the state in supporting costs like those of road maintenance and police protection.

The claim is completely bogus because commercial development is a revenue-producer, not a tax drain, so much so that many towns encourage it with property tax breaks.

Towns with a lot of commercial development will favor the legislation as a device for getting them more state financial aid. But the estimated $54 million per year to be diverted from the state to the commercially developed towns will have to be made up by cutting somewhere else, and the most likely target will be state aid to other towns, towns that have little development.

This will only feed the cycle of what environmentalists call suburban sprawl, the compulsion of rural towns to chop themselves up with strip malls to raise property tax revenue as the expense of state mandates, like binding arbitration of public employee union contracts, increases so much faster than the tax base of rural towns. Now towns would get a state bonus for sprawl.

Further, commercial development is no determinant of a town's financial need. Some prosperous towns have much development while some poor towns have none.

It is a principle of liberalism that appropriations and tax breaks should be more means-tested, but surrendering a portion of state sales taxes to commercially developed towns would make public finance less so.

The sales tax diversion legislation is just a shell game whose only point is patronage.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer. His views are not necessarily the newspaper's.