Balancing business needs against state shortfalls [News Times]

April 12, 2016
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Connecticut Senator Len Fasano was a guest speaker at the Greater Danbury Chamber of Commerce annual Eggs and Issues breakfast at the Ethan Allen Inn in Danbury on Friday April 8, 2016. Lisa Weir / For Hearst Connecticut Media.

Article as it appeared in the News Times

DANBURY — Legislative leaders debated how to get out of the state’s fiscal mess Friday during the Danbury Chamber of Commerce’s annual Eggs and Issues breakfast.

With the state facing a potential deficit of nearly $1 billion next year, state lawmakers have been looking at a variety of proposals that could increase state revenues, but some local business leaders are concerned that the push for more revenue will result in more burdens on the state’s businesses.

“Businesses these days have to compete on both a state and international level,” said Stephen Bull, president of the chamber, “but how are we going to do that if the state creates additional burdens for businesses? We are already the 47th most burdensome state in the nation for doing business.”

Proposals that have caused concern include the “McWalmart” bill, which would require employers with more than 500 workers who don’t pay at least $15 per hour to be penalized with a fee of $1 per employee per hour. The bill is targeted to big box stores and fast food franchises.

While House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, one of the guest speakers during the event, said the proposal would protect the state against unscrupulous businesses, Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano argued that it’s merely another ploy from the governor’s office to raise taxes.

“It’s a money grab,” Fasano said.

Aresimowicz, however, said many businesses hire part-time help and use other tactics to avoid paying their fair share, resulting in many employees who are forced to go on expensive government assistance programs for their health care and other services.

“Frankly, these are services that the employers should be providing,” Aresimowicz said. “It’s going after those employers who force their employees into state services and they need to pay part of the bill.”

Fasano said the bill would only result in hurting the employees that the state is trying to help because businesses will likely have to cut positions in order to pay for it.

“This does absolutely nothing to help the employee,” he said.

Both lawmakers, however, agreed that the state government needs to release more than $140 million in payments to the state’s hospitals as part of a previous agreement when the hospital tax was created several years ago. At the time, both the state and the hospitals agreed to the tax because it would result in additional federal funding that would make the hospitals whole.

However, that is no longer the case.

“When we created the hospital tax is was to take advantage of federal dollars, but the state began returning less and less of that money to the hospitals and it became an actual tax,” Fasano said.

The issue, he said, deprives the hospitals of the resources they need to take care of those most vulnerable, especially those on Medicaid who may have to wait months for an appointment due in part to low reimbursement rates.

“We’ve also given the state Department of Public Health the right to unilaterally make changes to the reimbursement rates,” Fasano said. “That’s wrong. It should be a legislative responsibility.”

Photo caption: Connecticut Senator Len Fasano was a guest speaker at the Greater Danbury Chamber of Commerce annual Eggs and Issues breakfast at the Ethan Allen Inn in Danbury on Friday April 8, 2016. Lisa Weir / For Hearst Connecticut Media.