In January 2021, I wrote in these pages about my extraordinary experience with the taxing authorities in the State of Connecticut. They had insisted out of the blue, three years after I’d moved to Florida, that I owed them $250 in principal, interest and debt-collection fees for a vehicular property tax bill in 2017 that I had not, in fact, ever received.
Connecticut’s terrible behavior throughout the saga, I suggested, neatly summed up why “people are fleeing the Northeast.” At the end of that piece, I wrote, “Eventually, I’ll pay this tax, to make it go away.” Eighteen months later, still firmly ensconced in Connecticut’s Kafkaesque vortex (and still living in Florida), I have changed my mind. Instead, I might join a militia.
My latest interactions with state officials have been beyond absurd. Connecticut law has a provision allowing the removal of any interest and fees from taxes if authorities “determine that the delinquency is attributable to an error by the tax assessor or tax collector and is not the result of any action or failure on the part of the taxpayer.” This describes me perfectly — I have never in my life declined to pay a tax on time, and I didn’t here. And yet Connecticut won’t remove the interest and fees, because I am unable to prove that I did not receive their letters.
Think about that for a moment: How, on earth, would I begin to prove that I didn’t receive a letter? I can no more prove that I didn’t receive something in the mail than I can prove that I didn’t hear a thunderstorm. It is a metaphysical impossibility — which, of course, Connecticut seems to instinctively understand when the shoe is on the other foot.
When I asked one bureaucrat if he could prove that the state actually sent me any notices, his response was shocked. “How could we do that?” he wrote back in an email.
I dunno. By keeping records, perhaps?
And so back we go into the same cycle. “Have you tried talking to the collection agency?” Connecticut asks. I have, yes. But trying to talk to the collection agency they’ve hired is like trying to play chess with a tree. I write, I email, I fax. And whatever I do — at this stage, I could parachute in from a helicopter singing Lady Gaga songs, and it would make no difference — I receive a letter every three months informing me that I haven’t responded and that another $8 has been added to the bill.
The total is now $292.92. That’s $292.92 for a bill that would have cost just $24.89 if I had received it in 2017 instead of 2020.
Slowly, but surely, I have come to realize that Connecticut’s system is not inefficient, but evil, and my experience is not an exception, but the rule. In 2006, The New York Times published a piece about Connecticut’s harassment of a man named Randal Hans, whom the state chased for a decade over nonpayment of a property-tax bill that he never received in the first place.
Hans’ experience and mine are nearly identical. “He never got a tax bill, he said, and never got notices about back taxes.” Check. At first, he “wasn’t sure if it was a scam or a real bill.” Check. When he insisted that he’d never been notified, he was told that “receiving a bill isn’t a prerequisite for paying it.” Check. Despite multiple attempts, he “did not hear back from the collection agency.” Check. When he asked for “proof that the office had sent notices,” he “was told the records were not available.” Check. And so on, and so forth.
The Times’ piece ends with Hans saying, “I’m just kind of frustrated and sort of close to acceptance.”
I, too, am frustrated with Connecticut. But I’m not close to acceptance. When I first wrote about this in The Post last year, I received hundreds of emails from readers who told me that the same thing had happened to them and encouraged me to stand firm.
And so, I am. The fact that so many other people have eerily similar stories is not a coincidence. It’s a strategy that reflects how governments in Northeastern states treat the people who live there. At the outset, this was about $250. Now, it’s about the arrogance, entitlement and cynicism of Blue State bureaucrats.
We’re onto you, Connecticut. You have been warned.
Charles C. W. Cooke is a senior writer at National Review.