Sen. Daily: Finance chairs will meet with DRS over debit cards

Sen. Eileen Daily, D-Westbrook, is not prepared to convene a full informational hearing of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee over this week’s sudden announcement the state has replaced tax refund checks with JPMorgan Chase debit cards.

But Daily, the finance co-chair with Rep. Pat Widlitz, D-Guilford, said the two will schedule a meeting with Department of Revenue Services Commissioner Kevin Sullivan to learn more about the changes.

Daily said she has no interest in jumping on the “hysterical bandwagon” over the debit cards. But, she said, “We have to make sure the public has nothing to lose here.”

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield on Tuesday urged the committees on finance, banks and general law hold an informational session so lawmakers could learn more about the reasons behind the change from paper to plastic and allay any fears.

Daily acknowledged that, like McKinney, she only learned of the debit cards this week when DRS Monday announced the new policy in a pretty bare bones statement to the press.

“That’s never well advised,” Daily said.

She said Sullivan should have at least briefed key lawmakers first.

I’ve heard grumbling from a couple Democratic lawmakers and Democratic operatives up at the capitol that this is a manufactured controversy.

Let me make what seem like pretty obvious points.

1. Fair or not, people don’t generally have good feelings for the tax department and are suspicious tax officials are always out to claim more than government’s fair share of their hard-earned paychecks. And then there’s the fact Connecticut’s tax department spent the fall and early winter having to explain glitches that caused folks to suddenly have more taxes than normal withheld from their paychecks.

2. Fair or not, people also don’t have a high opinion of big banks like JPMorgan Chase after the financial crisis.

3. To issue the cards, DRS has to turn over taxpayers’ Social Security Numbers to Chase. People get a little nervous about that. Lawmakers know this. On Tuesday and Wednesday Attorney General George Jepsen and Senate Democrats, respectively, issued press releases about efforts to better protect constituents’ personal data – including Social Security numbers. And Jepsen advised, “Never provide sensitive information, such as your Social Security Number, unless there is a legitimate purpose, such as for employment or health care reasons.” Nothing in there about handing it over to Chase for a tax refund.

4. Whether it’s the banks’ fault or the customers’ fault, some people have trouble using debit cards and the very term can conjure up visions of complicated contracts and high fees and other headaches.

So when you combine all four of the above – the DRS, a big bank, giving out personal information and debit cards – it’s only natural that, unless properly explained, some taxpayers will have a negative reaction. But some decision-makers in Hartford convinced themselves residents would welcome these changes the way they welcome getting a gift card at Christmas.

Daily agreed that just the words “debit card” and “big banks” raise red flags for some.

“Absolutely,” she said. “There are loads of people in my district who operate mainly on a cash and check basis. So this idea of a debit card doesn’t sound like they’re getting money back. (And) a lot instantly don’t trust Chase.”

Brian Lockhart