Chris Powell: Connecticut's self-destructive income tax and migration problems

On State Street, in the famous sanctuary city of New Haven.

On State Street, in the famous sanctuary city of New Haven.

Last week brought more evidence that Connecticut is paying successful and self-sufficient people to leave and paying poor and dependent people to stay or settle in the state.

The evidence came from Bloomberg News, which analyzed Internal Revenue Service and Census Bureau data about population movement among states in 2015 and 2016. The news service found that population movement was most costly to Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey, with Connecticut losing 1.6 percent of its population's annual adjusted gross income. The study found that the average income of people departing Connecticut was $122,000, the average income of people arriving was $97,000, and five people left the state for every four people arriving.

Many arrivals in Connecticut are illegal immigrants settling in the state's "sanctuary cities." They depress the income averages and tend to require government services. Poverty may be a virtue in religion but it is only a handicap in governance, and yet legislation pending in the General Assembly would establish "sanctuary" for illegals in all the state's 169 towns by prohibiting almost any cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

There is much dispute over whether raising Connecticut's taxes on the wealthiest, risking more income migration, would cost more tax revenue than it gained. But the data examined by Bloomberg News show that Connecticut already has plenty to worry about with the flight of its middle and upper-middle classes.

Florida may be the leading destination for people departing Connecticut and other highly taxed and declining states, in large part because Florida has avoided a state income tax. The study found that while Connecticut was losing 1.6 percent of its population's adjusted gross income, Florida was increasing its population's income by 3 percent. The average income of a Connecticut resident moving to Florida appears to be a whopping $253,000, but in recent years many people of all self-sufficient income levels have left Connecticut for the Sunshine State.

Of course Florida isn't heaven. Its mild winters are matched by oppressive summers. Away from the shore, Florida's geography is bland prairie. Florida real estate near the shore is more expensive than most real estate in Connecticut. The bears that increasingly annoy Connecticut's rural and suburban residents are cuddly pets compared to Florida's alligators, Burmese pythons, and year-round insects. Florida's hurricanes do far more damage than Connecticut's snowstorms.

Indeed, Connecticut has many natural advantages -- lovely, varied, but gentle geography, a temperate climate with three pleasant seasons, proximity to New York and Boston, and suburban convenience. But its cities continue to decline and the income-migration data is an indictment of the gross failure of state government policy to improve Connecticut's demographics, to do much more than sustain the government and welfare classes at the expense of the private sector. The more taxes are raised to perpetuate this policy failure, the more the most taxable people depart -- and taxes are about to be raised again.

Progressive taxation is good only insofar as it helps to deliver good government. It is not an end in itself but a means to that end. When it fails to deliver, the people it taxes most may wise up.

The income migration data argues against raising Connecticut's income tax rates as many Democratic state legislators want to do. But it also argues for challenging the premises of much state policy. If state government was improving rather than impoverishing Connecticut, people who pay more taxes might be inclined to stay anyway.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn.