Connecticut’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee on Wednesday was set to consider an increased property tax break for veterans, particularly fully disabled veterans, but instead was quickly sent into recess by chairman Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, and then ended, leaving the tax break bill in the legislative dust bin.
Senate Bill 1128 would have fully exempted veterans with a 100 percent disability status from both home and vehicle property taxes, joining 18 other states that exempt fully disabled veterans from property taxes.
Additionally, the legislation would have increased the property tax exemption for Connecticut veterans by 1.5 percent based on veteran status, disability and income. For instance, a Connecticut veteran or active service member with wartime experience or a 30-year retiree currently receives a $1,000 reduction on their assessed property value used to determine their property tax payment. The bill would have increased it to $1,015.
The bill was passed unanimously out of the Committee on Veterans’ and Military Affairs and forwarded to the Appropriations Committee where it also received unanimous approval. The bill was then forwarded to the Senate to await a vote. Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, referred the bill to the Finance Committee for approval where it was quietly allowed to die without discussion.
During public testimony, U.S. Army combat veteran, attorney, and chair of the Veterans & Military Affairs section of the Connecticut Bar Association Dennis Carnelli wrote that Connecticut should join the 18 other states that exempt property owned by 100 percent disabled veterans.
“Connecticut has one of the highest property tax burdens in the country. This bill would permanently alleviate that burden for the most severely injured veterans in our state,” Carnelli wrote. “Given the contributions and sacrifices made by these veterans for the collective benefit of our society, I submit that this bill offers these veterans nothing more and nothing less than they deserve.”
Gregory Clark testified that he is a veteran with Lou Gehrig’s Disease and a 100 percent service-related disability. Due to his disease, Clark was required to make improvements to his home, which then drove up his property tax burden. “Our expenses can suddenly increase dramatically, such as the $5,500 bill for caretakers to take care of me 24/7 when my wife had Covid,” Clark wrote.
The legislation was also supported by Rep. Jennifer Leeper, D-Fairfield, and Fairfield First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick, who wrote that 39 other states currently provide larger property tax exemptions for veterans than Connecticut.
The bill was opposed, however, by Connecticut’s municipal organizations like the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and the Council of Small Towns saying it was another unfunded mandate by the state that would reduce property tax revenue.
The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated the total cost to all municipalities at $33.9 million, according to the fiscal note, and, according to public testimony, there are only roughly 4,400 fully disabled veterans in Connecticut. Advocates say the real number is closer to 3,000 when adjusted for disabled veterans who own houses, and even lower for permanently disabled veterans.
“CCM and its member towns and cities have been asking for the legislature to stop adding to the regressive nature of the property tax by opposing new or expanding existing property tax exemptions,” wrote Randy Collins of CCM. “The passage of another mandated property tax exemption, regardless of the merit, is simply another example of the state providing a benefit and then handing the bill to our towns and cities.”
The current property tax exemptions for veterans are not automatic, according to a report by the Office of Legislative Research. Veterans must apply for the benefit.
In 2021, the House of Representatives passed legislation to establish a working group to study the property tax exemption for veterans, but it was never taken up by the Senate.
“While property taxes in Connecticut have skyrocketed, tax exemptions for veterans have not been updated for decades,” wrote Heidi Cornell, a 23-year U.S. Air Force combat veteran, in public testimony. “This small group of men and women have sacrificed for us and our freedoms. The passage of this bill is a small but meaningful request to honor their sacrifice and help veterans stay in their homes in Connecticut.”