Everyone Hates Connecticut’s Car Tax, But Change Remains Elusive

connecticut car tax

Nelida Travaglini’s 2011 Honda Accord has traveled over 130,000 miles and, like many aging cars, requires more maintenance. However, the state of Connecticut sees it differently. If Travaglini lived in affluent Greenwich, her car tax bill would only be $83. But in Hartford, where she resides, the bill amounts to $243. With two other aging cars to pay taxes on, including her husband’s 2003 Accord, Travaglini struggles to handle the financial burden. She’s left with a difficult choice between paying taxes or prioritizing daily necessities like electricity and water.

Car taxes are universally disliked. In the past, politicians like Jim Gilmore and Arnold Schwarzenegger campaigned to repeal or lower car taxes, promising relief to frustrated taxpayers. Yet, Connecticut’s history suggests that repealing the car tax is a challenging task. Previous attempts in different states have resulted in massive budget deficits, forcing lawmakers to reinstate the tax temporarily. In Connecticut, the car tax contributes nearly $1 billion in revenue for cities and towns, supporting vital services such as school funding and road repairs. Consequently, any change or repeal creates uncertainties and jeopardizes municipalities’ ability to sustain these services.

Tax Discrepancies Breed Resentment

Connecticut’s car tax is renowned for its inconsistency. It favors areas with high housing values, leading to complaints about its regressive nature. Additionally, the tax varies greatly by locality due to Connecticut’s reliance on town governance, enabling each of the state’s 169 municipalities to set their own tax rates. The tax bill is computed by multiplying the mill rate of the town by 70% of the vehicle’s average retail value. The mill rate represents the value of taxable property in a locality. Wealthy areas like Greenwich, with a median household income of $127,123, have low mill rates, such as 11.39. Meanwhile, Hartford, with a median household income of $37,477, has a mill rate of 32.46, the maximum allowed under recent tax cuts. Furthermore, areas with more tax-exempt properties, like non-profit hospitals, may have higher mill rates. This disparity has led to instances where individuals earning minimum wages pay more car tax than those making half a million dollars in affluent areas like Greenwich.

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The retail value of a vehicle is determined using guides from J.D. Power, a Michigan-based consumer intelligence company. In cases where J.D. Power does not provide data, assessors ultimately determine the vehicle’s value. During the pandemic, supply chain disruptions increased the cost of new and used cars, resulting in higher tax bills as retail values soared. For example, Travaglini’s 2011 Accord saw a 20% increase in its gross assessment from 2019 to 2022. Although retail values have stabilized, they have not yet decreased, according to the Connecticut assessors’ group.

Budget Woes Follow Repeals

While at least a dozen states impose annual property taxes on vehicles, Connecticut’s tax is unique due to the wide fluctuations between municipalities. Most states set a uniform statewide tax rate to avoid such discrepancies. One exception is Kentucky, which allows local governments to set their own rates below a statewide cap. Rhode Island eliminated its motor vehicle tax last year, utilizing a budget surplus of $600 million to expedite the planned five-year phase-out. The state faced similar complaints about variations between municipalities.

Nevertheless, repealing the car tax can be challenging, as Virginia and California experienced. After promising to eliminate the car tax, Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore phased it out over five years, expecting to cost the state $620 million. However, the actual cost doubled, prompting an agreement to cap reimbursements to municipalities at $950 million annually. A similar situation occurred in California when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger fulfilled his promise to roll back the vehicle license fee but had to raise it again during the Great Recession to address a $41 billion deficit. These examples highlight the financial implications of repealing the car tax and the subsequent need to reimburse municipalities for lost revenue.

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An Ongoing Saga

Connecticut has attempted to address the issue through various means. Shortly after taking office in 2019, Governor Ned Lamont created a working group to evaluate municipal and regional efficiencies, which led to a focus group on motor vehicles. One recommendation from task force members was to set a statewide mill rate of 30, but this suggestion faced backlash from wealthier areas that would see their motor vehicle tax bills increase. Instead, the state imposed a cap on mill rates, providing some relief but maintaining a discrepancy between low and high mill rate towns.

Governor Lamont also proposed switching from using J.D. Power’s valuation information to manufacturers’ suggested retail prices (MSRP) for used cars. This change would create a gradual depreciation schedule and prevent the price surges seen during the pandemic. Other states, like Maine and Nebraska, already use MSRP for annual tax assessment. Although Connecticut approved the switch to MSRP in the 2022 state budget, its implementation was delayed to late 2024 due to concerns that it might not benefit all taxpayers. The topic is likely to be revisited during the next legislative session.

In the meantime, some lawmakers are pushing for a complete elimination of the car tax. One option being considered is replacing it with an 8% annual tax on insurance companies’ premium revenue. However, skepticism about alternative solutions remains.

Travaglini, a longtime resident of Hartford, has little faith that meaningful change will happen anytime soon. She believes that someone needs to foot the bill for the city’s essential services, despite politicians’ good intentions. The future of Connecticut’s car tax remains uncertain, leaving many car owners like Travaglini frustrated and burdened.

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Q: How does Connecticut’s car tax work?
A: Connecticut’s car tax is calculated by multiplying a town’s mill rate by 70% of the vehicle’s average retail value. Each municipality in Connecticut sets its own mill rates, leading to significant discrepancies in tax bills.

Q: Why is Connecticut’s car tax disliked?
A: The car tax in Connecticut is particularly disliked because it favors areas with high housing values, resulting in a regressive tax system. Additionally, the tax varies widely between localities, creating inequities that draw complaints from residents.

Q: Have other states tried to repeal their car taxes?
A: Yes, several states have attempted to repeal or lower their car taxes. However, these efforts have often resulted in significant budget deficits, forcing lawmakers to reinstate the tax temporarily.

Q: What are the implications of repealing the car tax?
A: Repealing the car tax jeopardizes municipalities’ ability to fund essential services such as school funding and road repairs. It also creates uncertainties and challenges in balancing budgets.


Connecticut’s car tax continues to be a contentious issue, with individuals like Nelida Travaglini feeling the burden of its financial impact. Efforts to repeal or reform the tax have been met with challenges due to the revenue it generates for municipalities. While some changes have been made to lessen the disparities between towns, they have not gone far enough to satisfy taxpayers. The road to eliminating or replacing the car tax in Connecticut remains uncertain, leaving many car owners frustrated and hoping for change.

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