On a sizzling early March day, more than 300 business leaders from across Connecticut came to the State Capitol to convince lawmakers to heat up the state’s economy.
The Connecticut Business Day attendees also heard Governor Malloy repeat his call for government to respond to the state's "new economic reality" by controlling spending and focusing on delivering core services.
“When you have less money, you should spend less money,” said the governor. “That’s how you budget in your businesses; that’s how we need to budget.
"We need to live within our means, and since less money is coming in, less money can go out."
That message was well received—confirmed by an instant polling of business leaders which revealed the top policy issue on their minds was Connecticut’s fiscal condition.
But asked to identify just one issue state lawmakers must work on to increase Connecticut’s competitiveness, attendees overwhelmingly defaulted to an “all-of-the-above” answer—including state spending, taxes, regulations, and labor mandates.
Malloy said Connecticut’s economy is showing healthier employment growth, along with other signs that industries in the state are finally overcoming the lingering impacts of the Great Recession.
“We have come through a great storm,” he said.
"We did some of the things we needed to do. But it’s quite clear we need to do a lot more to address what I think will be another, you know, five to six years to maybe even a longer period of time of adjustment after the Great Recession."
The Governor noted that he asked legislative leaders earlier in the week for ideas on cutting about $130 million from the current year's budget.
“Everyone bemoans the cuts, although they agree I should cut,” he said Wednesday.
“The big part of the message that needs to be delivered to the legislature is, we have to stop doing business the way we always did it.”
Even though the state faces a $266 million deficit this fiscal year, and a projected $900 million gap in the next, “this is no time for despair,” Malloy said.
Rather, he said we need to “take stock of, and build on [Connecticut’s] strengths.”
Transportation Lock Box
CBIA president and CEO Joe Brennan credited the governor for “taking the bull by the horns and [saying] we have a new economic reality here in Connecticut."
Brennan told business leaders another round of tax hikes this year "would be disastrous" for the economy, while spending cuts "would send a message that Connecticut is going to be aggressive in making the state more competitive."
It's time lawmakers listened to those who create jobs.
“Given all the difficulties facing our economy and business climate, employers are looking for legislators to demonstrate a sincere desire to make our state and its businesses more economically competitive.
"Businesses are saying no more mandates, no more costly burdens. And it's time lawmakers listened to those who create jobs."
Malloy also asked business leaders support his budget reforms, which include overhauling state employee pensions, and a constitutional lock box to protect transportation funding.
The Governor said Connecticut must make investments that can help drive the economy--such as upgrading the state’s transportation systems and infrastructure, adding, "unless we get this right, we will be that economic cul-de-sac.”
'Part of the Solution'
Brennan and JoAnn Ryan, president and CEO of Northwest Connecticut’s Chamber of Commerce and chair of the Connecticut Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives, opened the day’s program focusing on the positive.
“The thing that strikes me more than anything else,” said Brennan, “is the resiliency of the Connecticut people and the resiliency of the Connecticut economy.
"It’s you folks in this room and your colleagues and peers all across the state of Connecticut that keep this state moving forward despite the many challenges we have.”
Ryan said Connecticut's many assets are at risk "if we don’t take immediate action to improve the climate for investment and job creation in the state.
“The business community wants to see our state succeed, to sustain that great quality of life,” she said.
”We are here today because we want to be part of the solution and will do whatever it takes to put Connecticut on a better path.”
It's our job to sell Connecticut. It's your job to give us a Connecticut to sell.
Then they fanned out to four regional meetings with state legislators from both sides of the political aisle to bring those issues to a local level.
Their frank discussions also included taking the temperature of lawmakers for taking on Connecticut’s challenges.
'Businesses Are Angry'
Policymakers were urged to use this legislative session to start taking steps to address budget shortfalls.
“Businesses are angry,” said Tony Rescigno, president of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce.
“They are frustrated because they are having difficulties growing their business, and feel that government has been too slow to fix the problems my members and all businesses face.
“It all has to change this year and it starts with passing budget adjustments that balance the budget without raising taxes, and follows the blueprint laid out by the Governor.”
Michael Feldman, president of Connecticut REALTORS, told lawmakers that decisions made at the Capitol have far-reaching impact.
“When businesses leave the state, so do their employees,” he said. "The impact goes beyond tax receipts–it touches real estate, service industries, property taxes.
"It's our job to sell Connecticut. It's your job to give us a Connecticut to sell."
Connecticut Business Day was sponsored by CBIA and the Connecticut Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives.