Jewish World Review Nov. 30, 1999 /21 Kislev, 5760
Here's looking at you --
now hand over the
'YOU LOOKIN' at me?"
It sounds like a tough-guy line, suitable for a movie.
But, it turns out, that sentiment is being used in
Connecticut as a way to bring in tax revenues.
You may recall, several weeks ago, a column that
appeared here about the Window Tax that once
was in effect in England. Considered by some to be
the meanest tax in history, its basis was this:
If you had windows in your house, you had to pay
a tax on each of them -- give money to the
government for the privilege of being able to look
Levied in the 1690s, in the era of King William III
and Queen Mary II, the Window Tax caused many
poor people to board up or brick up their
windows. They couldn't afford to get by if they had
to pay the Window Tax -- so they made the sad
decision of doing without sunlight in their homes.
The point of the column was that such a tax would
never be levied today -- no politician would have
the temerity to tell the citizens that they must pay a
tax on each of their windows.
But as soon as the column appeared in print,
several readers let us know about the Window Tax
in Hartford, Conn. -- which might more accurately
be called the "You-lookin'-at-me?" Tax.
In downtown Hartford sits the Old State House.
Constructed in 1796, it was a traditional seat of
government -- the Connecticut General Assembly
met there. Almost a century later, a new capitol
The Old State House then became Hartford's City
Hall. That lasted until 1915. The historic building
was almost torn down several times, and eventually
became a museum.
But the world has changed. Office towers now
surround the relatively tiny Old State House;
insurance companies, law firms and
financial-services corporations have their
headquarters in downtown high-rises. The officers
and employees of those companies look down on
the Old State House--so quaint and full of history,
such a lovely view.
"You lookin' at me?"
That -- or words to that effect -- are what
occurred to the executive director of the Old State
House, Wilson H. Faude.
Faude thought that it was nice that all of the Old
State House's prosperous neighbors had such a
pretty view of the building -- the view seemed to
make everyone in the downtown area feel good.
And feeling good, he reasoned, should not
necessarily be free.
Thus, 20 years ago, he instituted his own Window
Tax. He didn't ask the permission of any elected
body or public official -- he just did it. He counted
all the windows that faced the Old State House.
The number he came up with was 4,153.
He sent out notices to the owners of all the
surrounding buildings, asking the owners and
tenants to pay a yearly tax of $10 per window.
"People pay the tax with no complaint," Faude
said. He jokingly theorizes that the high-rise owners
know that an antique cannon outside the Old State
House is fired twice a day, and that if the neighbors
don't come up with the tax money, "we'll start
shooting out windows."
And in fact, although some of the Old State
House's neighbors decline to pay the Window
Tax--and although there's no way Faude can force
them to do it--most do. The tax brings in more than
$25,000 a year, Faude said, money that goes for
the upkeep and preservation of the old building.
What do those neighbors in the glass towers think?
"We have this wonderful view, 365 days a year,"
said Jim Williams, a partner at Kuzmak-Williams
and Associates, Hartford real estate brokers. "We
pay $150 a year. I think that is a small price."
"I like to let people around the office know that we
do pay the tax," said Maura Melley, a senior vice
president of Phoenix Home Life. "It's very hard to
say no to Mr. Faude, because he has the cannon."
Lawrence Gavrich of United Technologies Corp.,
which also happily pays the tax, said, "It's a very
respected building. It's, in my perception, like the
Alamo. A beautiful piece of history amid more
This could conceivably start a trend -- if looking at
attractive sights warrants taxation, we might begin
to see certain sunbathers hand out tax assessments
to gawkers on the beaches during the summer --
but for now the Old State House seems to have
this idea all to itself.
"No one likes to be looked down upon," Wilson
At least not without
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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