Last month, I got a notice in the mail from a debt collector. It was a personal property tax bill for my wife’s car — from a different state, Connecticut, which we had left three years earlier.
In Connecticut, they charge you for the privilege of owning a car, and I apparently owed taxes from 2017 — which, 814 days after they were levied, I was finding out about for the first time.
I don’t like taxes, but I always pay them. Had I known about this one, I’d have paid it, too. (The total fee was $250 — $150 for the tax, $70 for interest, and $30 in debt collection fees.) But I didn’t know about it, because, for three years, I was never told. Despite having my mail forwarded for a year and having family members who still live in the house we left, I didn’t receive a single letter or notice. Now, I had a debt collector’s letter in my hand.
Naively, I thought I’d resolve it over the phone. In Florida, where I now live, every interaction I’ve had with the government has been a pleasure. The DMV is efficient and useful. The sales tax office genuinely tries to help. Even toll operators give you the benefit of the doubt. But, in Connecticut, the entire system seems set up to bleed the citizenry dry.
Instantly, I hit a wall of Kafka:
Why didn’t you just pay it?
“Because I didn’t know about it — or even live in the state.”
Why didn’t you apply for a waiver?
“Because I didn’t know about it …”
Then, it got worse. Explaining that we had moved out of the state three years ago, I sent the officials my records — including evidence that we’d dutifully canceled our Connecticut plates and licenses on the day we arrived in Florida. It didn’t matter. Inexplicably, there is a wholly separate process by which one must cancel or prorate vehicular property taxes, so when we explicitly told Connecticut that we had left and taken our car with us, they couldn’t possibly have been expected to know that we had left and taken our car with us.
Undaunted, I admitted that I hadn’t proactively read the entire statute book before I left, and searched for understanding. Could the whole thing perhaps be dropped? Nope. Could it be prorated? Nope. Could the punitive interest be waived, at least? Nope. Could I appeal? Maybe. I had to ask four times for the details before I was told nonchalantly that the appeals process is held once per year — in person, that there are no appointments, and that, in the meantime, the interest would continue to accrue. Connecticut, it seems, is a little like the Hotel California: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.
Why do a growing number of people hate the Northeast? Why has Connecticut lost 100,000 more residents than it’s picked up over the last five years? This is why.
An average of 950 people move to Florida every day, and, per the Miami Report, the majority come from bureaucracy-heavy, high-tax states. We hear a lot about the ultra-rich leaving the Northeast for “economic reasons,” but this misses a large part of the exodus’ cause: The little things in life matter to everyone, and the Northeast is simply terrible at them. After a while, it adds up.
Eventually, I’ll pay this tax, to make it go away. And then I’ll sit back and remember exactly why I moved in the first place.
Charles Cooke is editor of NationalReview.com