The Numbers Game- Voting with Their Feet

January 5, 2011

The results of the 2010 census are in, and socio-economic and political analysts are feverishly reviewing the data to see what it says about the population shifts within our country and, more broadly, how America has changed over the past ten years.

The first census was conducted in 1790 by Federal marshals who went door-to-door and recorded the name of the head of each household and the number of people in each home. Over the next 200 years, the ten question survey became much more sophisticated, helping us define who we are as a nation. The data helps government leaders determine how much federal funding each state will receive and where to deploy public resources, such as services for the elderly, where to build new roads and schools, or where to locate job training centers.

In addition to querying this important information, the primary purpose of the census is to certify resident population for the nation and states and determine how many of the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives will be delegated to each state; a process called reapportionment.

Over the past ten years, Connecticut’s population has grown slowly at 4.9%, allowing us to just barely maintain our five congressional seats for another ten years. Connecticut lost a congressional seat after the 2000 Census and just narrowly avoided losing another one this year. This rate of growth, however, is only half the national average, and while the South and West regions of the country have enjoyed double digit increases in population over the past 20 years, the Northeast and the Mid-west have been lagging behind at 3.2% and 3.9% respectively.

As Connecticut lawmakers review the Census data – particularly as we work to balance a $7.5 billion two-year budget deficit – we need to reconsider the policies that may have caused our state to lag in population growth behind the rest of the country and work to reverse this trend. In my opinion, it is no coincidence that as Connecticut’s taxes have risen to among the highest in the country, its population growth rate has slowed to one of the lowest.

Remember, Connecticut lost a congressional seat because of slow population growth between 1990 and 2000, which just so happens to be the decade in which we instituted the state income tax and reinstituted the inheritance tax. In fact, in responding to a 2008 survey conducted by the Connecticut Department of Revenue Services (DRS), 76% of people who left the state said their reason for moving was a combination of Connecticut’s income and estate tax. According to the U.S. Department of Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the year the estate tax became law 12,800 residents moved out of Connecticut.

There is evidence Connecticut’s income tax is also impeding population growth, as illustrated in a report by the Yankee Institute titled "Fifteen Years of Folly: The Failures of Connecticut’s Income Tax." The report notes since 1992, the year the income tax went into effect, businesses in Connecticut have hired a grand total of zero net new workers. This is while the nation added more than 20-million jobs. Connecticut isn’t an anomaly.

The 2010 census clearly shows growth tends to be stronger where taxes are lower. In fact, seven of the nine states that do not levy an income tax grew faster than the national average. For example, Texas kept its taxes low, diversified its economy and incorporated business-friendly regulations attracting more people. The result: people and businesses are moving to Texas and the Lone Star State will add at least 4 more congressional seats to its political landscape. Our own state will take on a new look in the coming year with the process of redistricting taking form. The district lines will be redrawn by a bipartisan commission setting the stage for the 2012 election.

Connecticut lawmakers must be cognizant of these changing growth trends as we work to balance this year’s budget deficit. We cannot repeat past mistakes and take the easy way out by burdening working families and job creators with further taxes. We need to first look for ways to cut our spending, streamline our government and find ways to pay down our debt. We can no longer spend more than we make and we cannot continue to rely on a fraction of our population to pay the vast majority of our government’s expenses. Under current tax policy, the top 6% of filers, those who earn more than $250,000 a year, already pay half of all state income taxes. Relying on so few for so much creates unpredictable volatility in our state’s revenue streams making it that much harder for Connecticut to emerge from its budget crisis.

Instead, we must ensure that Connecticut regains its former status as a desirable place to work and raise a family. I hope to work with the new administration and my colleagues in the legislature to promote policies that will help us create and retain new jobs. The next census will show if the right strategies work to keep people from voting with their feet.