Legislators address state budget, jobs and business climate

January 25, 2017

State lawmakers agreed at Tuesday’s legislative breakfast that increasing business in the state — not raising taxes or cutting hospital funding — and providing more manufacturing workers are some of the fixes for the state’s current economic woes.

The annual breakfast, hosted by the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce and sponsored by area businesses, drew eight state legislators and area city, civic and business leaders to the DoubleTree by Hilton.
The event was moderated by Paul Lavoie, chairman of the chambers’ Regional Legislative Action Committee.

“When it comes to politics, we do not see blue or red, we see green, which is the color of money,” Lavoie said, kicking off the event, at which legislators discussed the budget, the state’s economic climate, and jobs growth and took questions from the audience of about 150 people.

“The state budget is very challenging. We cut almost $900 million last year and this year it will be even more difficult,” said Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz, D-Southington, Berlin. “We need to look at the core functions of every item in the state and see what we can do and maybe see what the nonprofits can do better.”

State Rep. Whit Betts, R-Bristol, Plymouth and Terryville, said he agreed that nonprofits need to be looked at to pick up services the state can no longer afford to provide.
“We simply cannot continue doing business the way we are now,” Betts said. “We also have to take a look at renegotiating contracts with the unions, and work with both sides on regulations for unfunded mandates for businesses.”

State Rep. Chris Ziogas, D-Bristol, who was just sworn in for his first term, said that he sees pensions as being a major change in government and business, with new workers coming in with less funded pension plans than the previous generations.

“I hate to say this, but the good news is they’re dying off. They are an older group,” Ziogas said to laughter.

He did not agree to outsourcing services to nonprofits, however, as they would have a hard time getting up to speed caring for special populations.
“The state can’t operate like a private business,” Ziogas said. “We have obligations to the citizens.”

One of those obligations is to live within our means, said state Sen. Henri Martin, R-Bristol, Harwinton, Plainville, Plymouth and Thomaston.

“We’ve got to get our spending cap in order… everything is on the table because this is a $1.5 billion deficit, and businesses are planning to move out,” Martin said. “There’s no more road to kick the can down.”
State Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, Cheshire, Prospect, Wolcott and Waterbury, agreed with Martin that, now since the problems have been pushed off for years, future generations will be paying the price.
“Raising them hasn’t solved our problems. We have to stop making that mistake,” Markley said. “We need a good business climate to energize businesses in the state. We have to go over line items, but we can’t cut municipal aid.”

State Rep. William Petit, R-Plainville, New Britain, a physician, who is also serving his first term, likened the state’s financial situation to a sick patient, adding that the therapy may have some “mild side effects,” but still needs to be treated.

“The thing I heard most while campaigning was ‘boy, property taxes are too high,’” he said. “But if we don’t protect municipal funding, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot. The state needs to look at five-, 10-year plans and changes in pension plans. Very few businesses these days have pension plans.”

In terms of jobs growth, the lawmakers all agreed regulations in business are too stringent.

“We need to stop the hemorrhaging and send a clear message that we are getting our fiscal house in order,” Martin said, adding that he didn’t see a reason to tax pensions or Social Security benefits.
Legislators also said a better relationship between education, in the form of vocational-technical schools, and businesses need to be formed.

“Let’s train some more HVAC techs, small machine operators, partnering businesses with community colleges,” Petit said.

Ziogas went one step further.
“I’m all for making the minimum wage $15 an hour,” Ziogas said. “I support vo-tech schools, if the older people are fleeing for the south, then we have a place for well-educated younger people.”
Aresimowicz added that every one of the legislators is working in a non-partisan, bipartisan way to right Connecticut.

“We put forth a package of bills in a bipartisan way,” he said, summing up the legislators’ efforts. “That’s the way we make a difference.”