Lamont, Stefanowski Share Economic Plans
Connecticut voters go to the polls in less than seven weeks to elect the state’s next governor. How do the two major party candidates plan to steer the state’s post-pandemic recovery and growth?
Democratic incumbent Gov. Ned Lamont and Republican challenger Bob Stefanowski appeared at CBIA’s The Connecticut Economy conference Sept. 23, answering questions on issues that included the labor shortage, affordability, and housing.
CBIA and Marcum’s 2022 Survey of Connecticut Businesses, released at the conference, showed that the labor shortage was impacting 85% of Connecticut business, with 39% calling the lack of skilled applicants the greatest obstacle to growth.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all,” Lamont told CBIA president and CEO Chris DiPentima. “Any business I talk to, it’s issue one, two, three.”
As of July 2022, Connecticut has 113,000 job openings—41% more than before the pandemic.
However, the state’s labor force—the employed plus those actively looking for work—has declined by 45,100 people since February 2020.
Lamont said he’s working to address the worker shortage, in part through investing in workforce development and accelerating worker training.
“We’ve got the biggest investment in workforce development in the history of the state, well over $100 million slated this year and next year,” Lamont said.
“We’re working with companies just like yours, companies large and small, what are the skillsets you’re going to need over the next six months and over the next six years?”
Stefanowski also pointed to improving training for workers, and not only through college.
“College is not for everyone,” Stefanowski told an audience of more than 300 business leaders at the Hartford conference.
“These kids coming out of trade schools have three, four job offers—electricians, people with construction skills.
“Why aren’t we investing more in our trade schools? They’re all at capacity, why aren’t we opening up five more?
“That’s what we should do. We need to get the skills back into the curriculum in high school.”
Stefanowski said the labor shortage was a top concern for the economy, but it’s not the only one.
“In terms of work development, I would argue it’s up there,” he said, “but I think it’s as much taxes and regulations as it is workforce.”
Reducing the cost of developing the workforce by eliminating the sales tax on training programs is one of the solutions featured in CBIA’s 2022 Transform Connecticut policy recommendations.
“Why are we taxing people who are giving training to employees?” Stefanowski said. “Why in the world would we do that? Absolutely, I’ll take it off day one.”
Lamont said he would look into the recommendation.
“It makes pretty good sense to me,” he told DiPentima.
Lamont said more needs to be done to keep graduates in the state, citing tax credits for employers who help employees with student loans.
“Come to Connecticut,” he said. “I’ll provide you the daycare, the transportation, and the training so you have a guaranteed job.”
“We have great assets, a great workforce, a great location,” said Stefanowski. “We’ve got to get costs down, taxes down, and make Connecticut more competitive.”
Cost of Living
A third of employers surveyed by CBIA and Marcum cited the state’s high cost of living as the top concern for employees and their families.
“I think that is our biggest headwind,” Lamont said, pointing to efforts to increase housing, bring down the cost of education, and deal with energy costs.
Stefanowski proposed property tax credits as one solution to make the state more affordable.
“For young people,” said Stefanowski, “it’s housing, it’s cost of living, it’s attractive cities, it’s giving them a bit of a break so they can build some equity in a home.”
CBIA’s Transform Connecticut solutions including providing incentives to developers and municipalities to build workforce housing on former brownfield sites and in opportunity zones.
“Right next to workforce is housing. Every single business says that to me,” said Lamont, saying the state has underbuilt housing over the last 30 years.
“I believe in local control and I believe in local zoning and I want towns to tell me how they want to get a little more housing.”
“I’m a product of affordable housing,” said Stefanowski, adding that more people should have the opportunity he did.
“We need to work with the towns and hold them accountable. We’re going to use the carrot, not the stick. I’m going to make it better and do it the right way.”
CNBC’s 2022 America’s Top States for Business study, released earlier this year, ranked Connecticut the sixth costliest state to do business.
Both Lamont and Stefanowski discussed their plans to address business costs.
“Of course you pay off the unemployment debt, that’s what the COVID money is for,” said Stefanowski.“
“Get rid of taxes on workforce training, restore the pass-through entity credit, get rid of the highway use tax, and the bottom 200 taxes.”
“In terms of taxes, I want to look at the corporate income tax, that’s been a little high,” said Lamont.
He said his administration was looking “to do everything it can” in terms of promoting research and development and private sector investment.
“I have to be the one who makes the choices,” he said. “If I cut revenues here, or increase spending over there, what am I not doing?
“I’m not paying down our state pension liability. You’re always making choices in terms of what’s the best way to prioritize what you’re doing.”
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