Letter: Greenwich Republicans Push for Tax Break for their Friends

Opinion piece submitted by Sean Goldrick, July 11, 2018. Goldrick, a resident of Riverside is a Democrat who served two terms on the BET

At the start of the last session of the Connecticut legislature, Greenwich’s four elected General Assembly Republicans together co-sponsored their first piece of legislation: HB 5009.

The bill received scant attention locally, but it made it all the way to the floor of the General Assembly, though it did not receive a final vote.

What was this bill that these local Republicans were so eager to introduce?

HB 5009 is titled “An Act Exempting Car Wash Services From The Sales Tax.”

And why would these local Republicans representatives Livvy Floren (Greenwich, west Stamford), Mike Bocchino and Fred Camillo (Greenwich) and state senator Scott Frantz (Greenwich, north Stamford, Darien, New Canaan) so eagerly desire to exempt car wash companies from state sales tax?

It just so happens that Splash Car Wash, Inc., Connecticut’s largest car wash chain and one of the largest car wash chains in the country, is headquartered in Greenwich, and its two owners, Mark Curtis and Chris Fisher, are long-time Greenwich residents.

So HB 5009’s sales tax exemption would benefit two Greenwich business owners.

And that tax exemption, according to the Office of Policy and Management, would be worth $6.7 million. So HB 5009 would have been worth millions to a small number of business owners, carving out a benefit especially for the owners of Splash Car Wash, Inc.

Is there any reason why, at a time when the state is striving to balance its budget in an era of low revenue growth, struggling to fund teacher pensions, maintain funding for schools and its public university system, this one industry should be handed a multi-million dollar tax exemption? Except for newspapers and groceries and a few other items, Connecticut residents must pay state sales tax on most everything they purchase.

Other than cronyism, should car wash companies be issued a special exemption from having to pay state sales tax? Absolutely not.

Splash Car Wash, Inc. employs mostly low-wage workers in its car washes. But this taxpayer carve-out wouldn’t be going to benefit those workers. Indeed, Splash Car Wash, Inc. was sued last year in a class action lawsuit brought by its employees for “wage theft,” violation of labor protections and minimum wage laws. The employees reached a confidential settlement with management earlier this year.

State Representative Fred Camillo testified in favor of HB 5009 before the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee chaired by Republican Senator Scott Frantz. Camillo claimed that “when a tax was imposed (on car wash companies) a few years back, the result has been drastic declines in revenue for these businesses.”

But Camillo offered no proof to back up his claim of revenue declines. Nor did Senator Frantz offer any data to support the claim that Splash Car Wash and others had suffered “drastic declines in revenue.”

Most tellingly, perhaps, Fisher and Curtis, owners of the Greenwich-based chain that supposedly had suffered revenue declines, declined to testify for the legislation. Indeed, just one car wash owner bothered to appear in support of the bill.

While attempting to hand over a multi-million dollar gift at taxpayer expense to Splash Car Wash’s owners who exploit low-wage workers, and their fellow business owners in Connecticut, those Greenwich General Assembly Republicans repeatedly voted against raising the minimum wage in Connecticut to a living wage to help those low-wage car wash employees.

Mike Bocchino, the ranking member of the General Assembly Committee on Labor and Public Employees, has regularly opposed legislation to help low-income working people, while Camillo and Frantz repeatedly opposed raising the minimum wage.

So Frantz, Bocchino, Camillo, and Floren are only too eager to hand business owners a tax exemption gift, while increasing the burden of taxation on individuals in the state who are forced to make up the difference.

During the past General Assembly session, while quietly working to hand a taxpayer gift to their buddies, these Republicans proposed sticking public school teachers with a $1,500 per teacher “teacher tax,” virtually eliminating the state earned income tax credit that helps some 1,200 low-income working families in Greenwich alone, and thousands more in Stamford, blocking an increase in the minimum wage, cutting state support for the University of Connecticut system by 30%, chopping $23 million from grants for the state’s poorest school districts, and eliminating the $37 million Roberta Willis Scholarship for low-income youth, potentially preventing thousands from going to college.

Tax breaks for their buddies; cuts in government assistance for everyone else. Come November, remember HB 5009.