Two-plus months into the 2019 General Assembly session, Connecticut businesses are understandably perplexed about the mixed messages streaming from the state Capitol.
On the one hand, there are a number of positive signs, including Gov. Ned Lamont's promise to prioritize job and economic growth.
"As one of the first governors who comes from the business world, I will be hyper-focused on job creation," he said Jan. 9, the session's opening day.
"My primary objective is to get this economy growing again."
Lamont has also tapped the business community for key administration appointments, urged greater collaboration between the public and private sectors, and pledged to dramatically cut state borrowing and modernize state government operations.
On the other hand, we've seen a near avalanche of workplace mandates and anti-business legislation—a stark contrast to Lamont's warnings the state's economy hasn't fully recovered from the 2008-2010 recession.
Question of Focus
Consider proposals that restrict how companies schedule shifts, or dramatically curb employer-employee communication in the workplace—how do they drive business investment and job growth?
While some other measures, including mandatory paid family and medical leave and a $15 hourly minimum wage, are well-intentioned, they are not part of the prescription for turning Connecticut's economy around.
Take healthcare costs for instance, a key issue for the state's employers.
A positive tone and outlook alone won't convince businesses that this state is headed in the right direction.
However, that's not where state lawmakers are focusing their attention.
Instead, we see bills like the public option—essentially state-run healthcare—that will not reduce insurance costs and likely expand government, increase taxes, and threaten a critical economic sector.
Ignoring Uncertain Economy
Many of this session's legislative proposals ignore Connecticut's uncertain economic position and will significantly impact, for the worse, the state's high cost of doing business, particularly for small businesses.
As the Hartford Business Journal's Greg Bordonaro wrote recently, lawmakers "are sending an incoherent message to the private sector."
— CBIA (@CBIANews) March 5, 2019
"The cost of doing business in Connecticut will surely rise by the end of this legislative session, meaning Lamont, as leader of the Democratic party, will have a difficult time convincing employers that things are truly changing for the better," he wrote.
"It doesn't matter how many top executives Lamont has in his corner to help sell the state, or what new economic development programs he unveils, what small- and midsize companies care most about is operating in a stable and affordable business environment."
CBIA's Joe Brennan says stability and affordability must be the key themes for policymakers this session—critical benchmarks for measuring how policies not only impact business costs, but Connecticut's cost of living.
"The last thing we should be doing is adding to the growing cost of running a business in this state," Brennan said. "And legislators must also address the high cost of living.
"Connecticut is becoming less and less affordable and we can't keep repeating policy mistakes of the past, such as hiking taxes and failing to control government spending."
Brennan said one-size-fits-all mandates like paid FMLA disproportionately target small businesses, many of whom "are absolutely fearful about these measures and their cost burdens."
The last thing we should be doing is adding to the growing cost of running a business in this state.
"We're hearing from more and more businesses who are being recruited by other states. Connecticut needs to give them the clarity and predictability that being here is the right strategic choice."
As the HBJ's Bordonaro wrote: "A positive tone and outlook alone won't convince businesses that this state is headed in the right direction.
“It's policy actions that promote growth and encourage investment that will."