Chris Powell: A tax increase called 'Passport to Parks'; must cute cows come first in Conn,?

  Dairy farm in Redding, Conn., now part of New York City exurbia.

Dairy farm in Redding, Conn., now part of New York City exurbia.


Why all the celebration this week of "Passport to Parks," the new policy of free parking at state parks for vehicles with Connecticut license plates?

For the parking won't really be free at all. It has been extended to Connecticut drivers because last year the General Assembly and Gov. Dannel Malloy enacted a $10 increase in vehicle registration and renewal fees to finance the removal of parking charges for state-registered vehicles.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection had been complaining that reductions to its budget were jeopardizing access to the parks. So the increase in vehicle registration fees has established a fund dedicated to park purposes.

But it's a fraud. For the governor and legislature seize supposedly dedicated funds and move them into the general fund whenever money runs short, and the higher registration fees are forcing all drivers, including hundreds of thousands of people who never use the parks, to pay even more for their upkeep while people who do use the parks are paying less.

Financing the parks with vehicle registration fees is worse than financing them with income, sales, and business taxes. For vehicle registration fees are less progressive than those taxes. That is, unlike those taxes, registration fees have no correlation with ability to pay and so they fall more heavily on the poor.

But legislators and the governor thought that raising vehicle registration fees was better politically than an ordinary tax increase because it would make a tax increase on people who don't use the parks look like an increase in services to [ITALICS] everyone. [END ITALICS]

And why the celebration this week of Governor Malloy's restoration of $1.4 million in state government subsidies to dairy farmers?

Yes, as the governor and Agriculture Commissioner Steven K. Reviczky said at Cushman Farms in Franklin as they announced renewal of the subsidies, Connecticut's dairy farmers work hard for little profit and milk prices can be volatile. But many businesses in the state are having difficulty. What makes dairy farms so critical? 

Commissioner Reviczky cited the jobs provided by dairy farms and what he said the farms add to the state's "quality of life." But dairy farm jobs are few, and the contribution of dairy farms to quality of life is, at least for their neighbors, mainly muck and stink. 

The manager of Cushman Farms, Jim Smith, argues that "the money doesn't stay at the farm very long. It goes back out into the economy. So this is more like a stimulus." But of course that could be said for any government subsidy. Most of the money would have been spent as well if state government had left it with taxpayers instead of transferring it to the dairy farmers.

The problems with the dairy industry in Connecticut are that its farms are on average too small ever to be competitive nationally, that the state just isn't rural enough anymore to allow for larger farms, and that any farm large enough to be competitive would have too many neighbors who wouldn't stand for it. These days neighbors complain about farms even where the farms long preceded housing.

Further, while state government this week was discovering $1.4 million to prop up a failing business model, it still faces, for example, an estimated $100 billion in unfunded pension liabilities and a waiting list of 2,000 mentally handicapped people living with elderly parents and seeking placement in group homes.

At a distance cows can be cute and scenic, but must they really come first? 

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