By Ray Dunaway

Commuting…it takes its toll on traffic, on the drivers, and of course, on the roads. So what about a commuter tax – where you pay a tax into the city and/or town where you work?

Oz Griebel, President & CEO of Metro Hartford Alliance, discusses Hartford officials’ proposal to tax commuters for road repairs and public safety.

“It’s an earnings tax, explains Dunaway, “They’ve been doing this in other cities for quite a while…and in Kansas city since 1963.”

“I don’t know about Kansas City,” says Griebel, “But the essence is, you’d be paying a commuter tax  into the city and/or town where you would be working.”

“So, it wouldn’t be just Hartford, it would be other cities as well?”

“That’s my understanding,” says Griebel, explaining, “The proposal your referencing is in the city council….the city council would not have the authority to impose any kind of a tax without legislative authority. This would require a tremendous amount of analysis and debate before it was ever implemented.”

“My point about Kansas City is that it has been used before,” says Dunaway, “And even there you’re talking about two states where it’s a levy. How do you get billed for this?”

“The devil is in the details,” explains Griebel.

During a visit to the Kansas City area, Griebel had the opportunity to talk with people concerning their five-county sales tax.  What he discovered is that in raising the money needed via taxes, there is a cap. For example, if $100 million is needed, once that amount is hit, the tax goes away. “This brings up the age old accountability regarding taxes,” points out Griebel. “How is it used, what is it used for and who has the authority to use it?”

“The city can’t say let’s do this unilaterally… it needs be a state level agreement,” says Dunaway.

“It it were to go forward, it would require applicability to other cities and towns,” says Griebel. “This gets to be somewhat of a distraction as we talk about state and local level of structural reform instead focusing on the revenue side. How are we going to get our cost structures better aligned? Maybe we should look at more regional sharing to get a more equitable distribution of cost rather than looking at only raising additional revenues”

“Luke Bronin and others have suggested you could save cost by consolidating some services,” says Dunaway.

“I don’t think there’s any question you could save cost – I think it’s a question of what everyone wants to do.”

According to Griebel, there is great pride over local control in the state of Connecticut. Therefore, how do we go about consolidating services in a way that allows local municipalities to keep control of things?

“The cost of education is something we’re all looking at in this state across the board,” he says. “I do think it’s a good idea to get the private sector involved, and for political leaders to look at this to see how we might have a system of services with a better aligned cost structure.”

In conclusion, Griebel sees all of these challenges as an opportunity for more collaboration, saying, “a collective effort would go a long way.”


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