LETTER: Anti-tax conservatives make an art of hypocrisy with “Tip Tax”

Letter to the editor submitted by Jonathan Perloe

You have to give credit to anti-tax conservatives; they’ve made an art of hypocrisy. Case in point, our First Selectman. Back in 2019, serving as a state representative, Fred Camillo minced no words when he said, “Here’s a fact: tolls are taxes, and we have enough of those in

Now that he’s responsible for a budget, he’s changed his tune. First Selectman Camillo is urging the Representative Town Meeting (on which I serve) to approve a tipping tax of $3.6 million.

The tax would be charged to trash haulers to dump their waste at Holly Hill, who in turn would pass it along dollar-for-dollar to residents in their monthly trash pickup charge.

Let’s call it for what it is: Mr. Camillo wants to avoid a property tax increase which would be a blemish on his conservative bona fides come election time in 2021.

From the residents’ perspective, paying for the town’s waste costs through a tipping tax passed along to us by trash haulers costs us no less than it does through our property tax (and probably more, given the administrative costs of collecting the tip tax.)

But wait, some may be saying. A tipping tax isn’t a tax, it’s a user fee. It’s a charge for a government-provided service levied in proportion to the use of the service. Which is true, just as it is for highway tolls. Since Mr. Camillo was adamant that “tolls are taxes,” he can’t have it both ways.

But while the overall burden doesn’t change with a tipping tax, it’s more regressive than our property tax, impacting lower-income residents more than higher-income residents. With more than one out of four households in Greenwich struggling to cover the basic costs of living (according to the United Way ALICE report), the last thing Greenwich needs is to increase the tax burden on lower-income households, especially during the current economic crisis.

What’s most disappointing is that First Selectman Camillo abandoned his pay-as-you-throw plan that would lower the all-in cost of waste disposal to residents and would yield an environmental benefit of substantially reducing the town’s output of municipal solid waste.

To be clear, I support government-levied user fees that fairly apportion costs and create incentives for environmentally responsible behavior, whether they be highway tolls or pay-as-you-throw waste disposal fees. What I don’t abide is elected officials who change their positions to suit their political interests.

Mr. Camillo had a smart environmental and fiscal plan, but he did a poor job of communicating the benefits of PAYT. Instead of taking a temporary hit on property taxes and building support for PAYT, he wants to plug his budget shortfall by instituting a non-tax revenue stream that will drive implementation and administrative costs with no economic value—and that will have to be unwound at additional cost if and when PAYT is ultimately instituted. Based on analysis by the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, PAYT is not “if,” only “when.”

Because PAYT is the environmentally and fiscally responsible strategy for dealing with rising waste costs, while tipping fees are just a face-saving move by the First Selectman, I’ll be voting against the “tip tax” when it comes up for a vote at the April 20 RTM meeting.

Jonathan Perloe, Cos Cob, CT