Saturday, August 15, 2009

Y is for Yogi

Many years ago, Yogi Berra, Yankee catcher and all around amazing human observer, was sitting in a pizza joint in Jersey City about to enjoy dinner. When the waitress brought his pizza pie, hot and bubbly to his table, she asked him if she should cut it into six slices. Oh no, he said, I'm not that hungry-four will be perfect. I suspect that's why Yogi still has a great deal of all the money the Yankees paid him-because he's really an economist. And if there's one thing we can use in the Nutmeg State right now, aside from pizza (and pony rides), it's some serious and new thinking about taxes and economic development.

In Connecticut, when the state has a budget sniffle, our cities and towns start reaching for the Kleenex with both hands. With very few exceptions, the only source of revenue for municipalities is property taxes (am property taxes? are property taxes? You figure it out). There are a variety of state and federal programs that provide revenue streams locally and, in theory, property taxes make up the difference, but in some form or other almost all the money in a city's budget comes from the state and the federal government (which started out a sour money, too, in case you forgot).

Our grandparents used to speak of the inevitability of death and taxes (and grandchildren, I believe), but when you live in a state that hasn't yet established a budget this year, taxes become a variable and that's not a good thing. In hard times, which we are in, or many of us are I think, we talk about economizing, measuring twice and cutting once, saving for a rainy day and all those bromides we use as emotional comfort food.

If you had the power to change how we tax and spend, be it in Norwich, or at the state level or even the national level, what would you do and how would you do it? And, perhaps as importantly, how would you measure how well your ideas were working out? I'm not idly curious because there's a point and purpose to the question-next Thursday evening in Norwich at six over on West Main Street, at Olympic Pizza (he's buying, so bring your appetite), Bob Zarnetske, who's running for Mayor, is sponsoring a get together to compare ideas on taxes and economic development.

It seemed sort of obvious when he outlined it months ago in the economic development plan on his website--if you create X number of dollars of growth in the city's Grand List, you can effectively lower individual taxes, but the more I've turned that idea over, the more I've come to realize, I'd have never thought of it (I spend a lot of time thinking thinking about pony rides. Lots of fun, but doesn't do squat for the Grand List.)

Together, we're a lot smarter than just me and so I'm thinking if you show up Thursday night and have an idea of two (or three), all of us could get a little smarter. And since the Mayor's job, basically, is to push for economic development, Zarnetske could offer us a sneak peek of how he's going to grow the grand list and further economic growth after he's elected Mayor in November. And did I mention there's pizza? See you there.
-bill kenny

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