Sen. Welch: Slicing spending and taxes is key to turning state economy around [Bristol Press]

January 27, 2012

Article as it appeared in the Bristol Press on January 27, 2012

January 27, 2012
By Steve Collins , Bristol Press

FARMINGTON — Nine lawmakers attending a Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce breakfast Thursday at times staked out opposing ground on some of the issues facing the General Assembly when it convenes next month.

But the tone of the annual legislative breakfast, held at Farmington Gardens, was generally low-key and pro-business.

Lawmakers agreed to a challenge from Mike Nicastro, the chamber president, and Bristol lawyer Tim Furey to axe at least one of the hundreds of unfunded mandates that municipalities across the state complain about each year.

State Sen. Beth Bye, a West Hartford Democrat whose district includes Farmington and Burlington, said that seemed a reasonable challenge.

She and others vowed next winter to be able to point to at least one mandate they had successfully rolled back during this year’s three-month session.

The 100 municipal and business leaders attending the meeting generally appeared to support the chamber’s call for lower taxes, less spending, less regulation, and more efforts to fix the region’s infrastructure.

Nicastro said the state is facing a deficit as high as $144 million in this fiscal year and more budgetary trouble to come unless it stops borrowing and begins setting priorities.

Despite a long list of necessary projects, “We cannot do it all in one fell swoop,” Nicastro warned the legislators.

Several legislators, including Bye and state Rep. Chris Wright, a Bristol Democrat, hailed the state’s agreement with The Jackson Laboratory and Bioscience Connecticut that officials hope will create thousands of jobs tied to the new facility beside the University of Connecticut Health Science Center in Farmington.

Though perhaps a third of the audience raised a hand when Wright asked if they backed it, Nicastro was among those lauding the project for its potentially significant impact on the region’s economy.

Wright said it’s “a worthy investment” that should lead to better times.

Wright said that the reality of politics is that it’s easier to raise taxes than cut spending because specific cuts hurt real people who complain vociferously.

Increasing taxes, he said, produces “a lot less opposition.”

But state Rep. Whit Betts, a Bristol Republican, said the GOP strongly believes cuts can be made, citing the potential $25 million savings from eliminating public financing of legislative campaigns.

He also said some services could be outsourced, including perhaps the Division of Motor Vehicles.

“We really need to change the culture in Hartford,” said state Rep. Rob Sampson, a Wolcott Republican.

State Sen. Jason Welch, a Bristol Republican, said that slicing spending and taxes is the key to turning the state’s economy around. He said that hiking taxes is “handicapping your business” in its quest to compete with those in states with lower tax rates.

Welch said pensions and other long-term debt need to be brought under control, a position backed by the chamber as well.

Nicastro urged legislators to put more resources into transportation, including a freight rail plan that’s been sitting on the shelf and the repair of decaying bridges.

He also sided with package store owners in the region who oppose opening the door to Sunday sales of alcohol.

Bye pointed out the irony of businesses criticizing the government for imposing too much regulation while simultaneously urging officials to prevent stores from selling beer and wine on Sundays.