One of the largest protests in Connecticut history took place today in 1991, as tens of thousands of Connecticans gathered on the lawn of the State Capitol in Hartford to call for the repeal of the brand-new state income tax.
1991 was a tumultuous year in state politics; during the summer, legislators repeatedly clashed both with Governor Lowell Weicker and with each other over writing a state budget that would tackle a severe deficit for the third year in a row. Weicker had been elected governor the year before by a narrow margin — in part due to his apparent opposition to a state income tax on the campaign trail, where he famously likened the creation of an income tax during an economic recession to “pouring gasoline on a fire.” Once elected, however, Weicker changed his mind and, claiming that his actions were purely “driven by the numbers,” refused to sign any budget that did not include a state income tax — vetoing three budgets and implementing a partial government shutdown that infamously kept Connecticut state parks closed during the Fourth of July holiday that summer.
Finally, in late August of 1991, the General Assembly passed a budget that included a new, permanent state income tax, which Governor Weicker immediately signed into law. Over the next few months, opposition to the income tax and what many saw as Weicker’s betrayal of a campaign promise reached a fever pitch, resulting in a massive protest scheduled for October 5, organized by dissenting lawmakers, business associations, and various political groups. Chartered buses full of sign-wielding protestors lined the streets of Capitol Avenue that Saturday morning, and by midday, aerial photographs of the Capitol grounds showed a crowd so thick that the lawn was no longer visible. State Police estimated the crowd to be 40,000 people strong, but organizers claim the crowd was much larger — closer to 70,000 people. The names of lawmakers who voted for the infamous budget were displayed on a giant “Wall of Shame,” Governor Weicker was burned in effigy, and singers led the crowd in call-and-response protest songs.
While the protest ultimately failed to generate the repeal of the income tax, it remains one of the most significant protests in state history. Many of the lawmakers who voted in favor of it were voted out of office or else decided of their own accord to forego reelection the following year. After the elections of 1992, a full third of the General Assembly was composed of brand-new legislators — marking the lowest incumbency rate in 40 years. Today, Connecticut’s income tax remains in place — and remains a point of fiery contention for politicians running for state office, decades after it was implemented.
“Face the State Flashback: 1991 Income Tax Protest,” WFSB Channel 3 Eyewitness News
Dave Corrigan, “The Anti-Income Tax Rally of 1991,” Connecticut Explored
Christopher Keating, “Capitol Caldron: Hot Summer Of ’91 Gave Birth To Income Tax,” Hartford Courant