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Malloy's refund gamble

Published April 12. 2014 4:00AM

Only in an election year would you see Republicans, who normally portray themselves as champions of the overtaxed, grumbling about the governor's plan to give Connecticut residents some of their money back from the state treasury.

This newspaper generally embraces Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's position that he is not looking to raise taxes again, but will withhold judgment on his proposal for a $55-per-person refund to taxpayers until a clearer long-term economic forecast demonstrates the state can afford such a return.

While it may be true that Connecticut is in much better fiscal health than when Gov. Malloy took office in 2011, the state continues to face a number of economic challenges - most notably, severely underfunded pension obligations - that could quickly turn a projected budget surplus into a deficit, as GOP naysayers warn.

The Connecticut Mirror points out that if income tax payments due next week show that household and business earnings are growing, then the governor won't have to worry about justifying the payout. But if the numbers fall short or even indicate stagnation, then Gov. Malloy will have an uphill battle in his November re-election bid.

Either way it's a gamble - one we hope he wins, for the sake of taxpayers.

A better strategy would be to enact genuine tax reform to make Connecticut less vulnerable to such boom-or-bust cycles.

Back to the $55 refund, though we're told not to look a gift horse in the mouth you do have to wonder: What kind of teeth does this nag possess? And really, what does that sum really buy these days? A new car? Hardly. Not even a monthly car payment. A night on the town or a shopping spree? Not unless it's a family meal at a fast-food joint or a pair of shoes from a discount outlet store.

It's depressing to consider that the governor and his political-economic advisers think typical voters can be "bought" so cheaply - especially if they eventually have to give the money back, with interest.

For the time being this newspaper cautiously shares the optimism of nonpartisan analysts and the governor's budget office who last week signed a consensus report concluding that taxes would yield $360 million more than planned this year. Both entities additionally expressed confidence that future tax receipts would grow by about $150 million in each of the next two years.

The legislature's tax-writing panel also endorsed Gov. Malloy's refund plan, so we're off to the races. Let's hope taxpayers will be riding a thoroughbred and not a $55 swayback.

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