MERIDEN — Republican candidate Bob Stefanowski called for nearly $1 billion in additional tax cuts Wednesday, while Gov. Ned Lamont countered that he is satisfied with $600 million in cuts recently passed by the legislature.
Stefanowski offered a six-part plan that covers multiple taxes, including blocking a planned increase in the state’s diesel tax that will take effect on July 1. The amount of the tax increase has not been announced, but officials say it could range from 10 cents to 15 cents per gallon under a complicated formula that is based on the wholesale price of diesel fuel.
“People are struggling right now,” Stefanowski, 60, told reporters outside a wholesale fuel company in Meriden. “As I go around the state, you see examples of people making tough choices about what to buy at the grocery store versus renting a DVD versus buying medicines. People have been planning for a vacation all year. There are a lot of people canceling them because of the price of airfare, the price of gas. We have to do something now.”
Lamont, though, rejected Stefanowski’s call to not only block the diesel tax increase but also stop collecting the entire 40 cents per gallon diesel tax for the rest of the year.
“The diesel tax — over half of that is paid by out-of-state tractor trailer trucks, many of which don’t stop in the state,” Lamont told two reporters in an interview Wednesday after a speech to commercial real estate agents at a West Hartford hotel. “Most of the diesel tax is paid for by big tractor trailers going through.”
Like officials in the fuel industry, Lamont said that he does not know how much the diesel tax will increase on July 1. Regarding Stefanowski’s statement that the tax could go up by 15 to 20 cents per gallon, Lamont said, “People are making up numbers out there.”
Lamont said the Democratic-controlled legislature had found the right combination of about $600 million in tax relief and $3.5 billion in additional debt payments that were approved during the regular session that ended in early May. That total is in addition to $1.6 billion in pension payments last year.
“We’re paying down an awful lot of pension [debt] this year,” Lamont said. “I think we’ve got a good balance between paying down our debt, fixing our infrastructure and the biggest tax cut in the history of the state. We can always do more. Everybody else promises tax cuts. I think we’ve delivered.”
Despite requests from Republicans, Lamont has no immediate plans for a special session to cut additional taxes, said Max Reiss, Lamont’s chief spokesman.
“I think right now you’re going to have a significant tax cut dropping into people’s pockets over the next two to three months,” Lamont said. “I think it’s going to represent $1,000 to most folks and that will make a real difference now, not at the end of the year.”
During his appearance in Meriden, Stefanowski said the legislature should immediately reduce the state sales tax to 5.99%, down from the current 6.35%. Lawmakers should also eliminate the 1% surcharge on prepared foods at supermarkets and restaurants, he said.
“We never should have had it in the first place,” Stefanowski said of the food tax that started under Lamont in October 2019 to help close a budget deficit before the state started racking up the largest surplus in state history. “That is a regressive tax, just like the sales tax is regressive.”
He also called for suspending the gross receipts tax on gasoline, which is about 26 cents per gallon and is collected separately from an additional 25-cents-per-gallon excise tax that has been suspended until Dec. 1. As Republicans have done for months, Stefanowski called for suspending the highway use tax on large trucks that is scheduled to begin on Jan. 1, 2023 and would raise about $90 million a year.
“This was Governor Lamont’s consolation prize for not getting tolls done,” Stefanowski said.
The state, he said, should also make additional payments to the unemployment trust fund that is paid by businesses and was drained because of high unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lamont put $40 million into the fund but the administration says that paying down the pension debt is more important.
Stefanowski reiterated his previous pledge to release his personal tax returns, as a joint filer with his wife, from 2019, 2020, and 2021.
“My disclosure is going to be the most, probably in the history of Connecticut, from a governor,” Stefanowski said. “That’s what we’re going to do. … I will do a complete financial disclosure of all our investments. I will release everything I’m legally and ethically allowed to do. †
He also called again for Lamont’s wife, Annie, to release her returns because her venture capital company had an investment in a testing company that received a state contract during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The guy that hasn’t released his own tax returns brought that up?” Lamont asked.
Concerning whether Stefanowski will release a list of his consulting clients, Lamont said, “He gives a lot of sermons about transparency. So I would say, physician, heal thyself. People want to know how you’re getting paid. Who’s paying you? I don’t know.”
Christopher Keating can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org