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Connecticut Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont is considering including a new tax on groceries and prescription drugs as part of his administration's first budget proposal.
A staffer for Lamont told Fox News that the governor’s office is weighing and researching several options as they formulate the proposal, which is due Feb. 20, but no formal decisions have been made.
“In order to build a better budget; one that will attempt to provide the much-needed stability for economic growth through the next two years and through the next decade, we need to explore new and different options,” Lamont spokesman Chris McClure told Fox News. “This means leaving no stone unturned, and engaging in all necessary conversations so we can evaluate and analyze ways to achieve and retain balance.”
Even the consideration of such a tax, though, is sparking a backlash in the state with a history of high taxes.
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“People throughout Connecticut are bracing themselves and their financial plans so they can manage the brunt of Governor Lamont and Connecticut Democrat lawmakers and their new taxes and proposals,” House Republican Leader Themis Klarides told Fox News. “Targeting groceries and medication to generate revenue is a terrible strategy.”
The details of the possible sales tax are unclear. According to a local report, the tax, if implemented, could be set at the current 6.35 percent sales tax, or limited to 2 percent as recommended by a "fiscal stability commission."
The budget deliberations, though, put Lamont -- within weeks of being sworn in -- at risk of touching off the same kind of tax controversies that engulfed his predecessor, two-term Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy. Malloy, last summer, was ranked the least popular governor in the nation, while Connecticut’s credit rating was the third worst in the nation, behind Illinois and New Jersey.
Malloy, when running for governor in 2010, had vowed he "was not going to raise taxes."
“That is the last thing we will do," he said in a televised debate. But Malloy went on to sign one of the largest state tax hikes in the country. By the end of his administration, Malloy had raised taxes by more than $4 billion.
Amid the backlash, General Electric left its headquarters in Fairfield, Conn., after more than 40 years.
Klarides called the latest idea a “bait and switch.”
“Judging by the incredible volume of calls and emails both myself and members of the House Republican Caucus have received since this news broke from both Democrat and Republican constituents they all agree on the same thing: no one wants these proposals to come to fruition,” Klarides continued. “Taking more money out of the pockets of our hard working taxpayers for the sake of generating revenue is a non-starter.”
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski, who ran on a platform of lowering taxes and repealing the state’s income tax but lost to Lamont, also criticized the proposal.
“Connecticut already has one of the highest tax burdens in the entire nation,” Stefanowski, a former chief executive officer of multiple divisions at General Electric and former chief financial officer at UBS Investment Bank, told Fox News in an email Thursday. “Our state has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.”
He added: “The last thing we need is yet another tax, this time on groceries which will hit struggling families the hardest.”
Should Lamont and his staff decide to include a grocery and prescription drug tax in the budget proposal next month, Connecticut would join several other states in the nation in taxing groceries.
Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia currently have a tax on groceries.