Connecticut Business Day 2021, held as a virtual event for the first time, centered around a number of key themes—some familiar, others reflecting the challenges of the times.
Gov. Ned Lamont was among the featured speakers, and CBIA president and CEO Chris DiPentima quickly asked him about a proposed statewide tax on commercial and residential property.
“I don’t support it, I don’t think it’s going anywhere, and we don’t need it,” Lamont said about the legislation, which was introduced by Senate President Martin Looney (D-New Haven).
“You know my feeling. We don’t need higher taxes.”
Lamont said the $2.6 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds earmarked for Connecticut through the American Rescue Plan Act will frame much of the state budget debate.
“We are going to be able to do a good job of holding down property taxes or even better around the state with a lot of municipal aid,” he said.
Lamont did emphasize that those federal funds must be spent wisely, with an emphasis on the state's recovery.
The state House unanimously approved a bill March 16 establishing its role in assigning those funds.
“It would be a tragedy if that federal money was spent frivolously,” Lamont said.
It was the second time in two months Lamont told Connecticut business leaders that he’s against broad-based tax hikes, a subject he addressed in January at an economic conference hosted by CBIA and the MetroHartford Alliance.
During his Business Day conversation with DiPentima, Lamont also shared his opposition to a proposed new state-run healthcare program administered without the fiscal and regulatory oversight that applies to private sector plans.
“You don’t want the taxpayers subsidizing it and you don’t want the taxpayers underwriting a lot of the risk there,” Lamont said.
“We’ve been underwriting pensions and debt and stuff for a long time and that’s not the way to go.”
Lamont did call for business leaders to support the administration's Transportation Climate Initiative, which proposes using a modified carbon cap-and-trade program to reduce vehicle emissions and fund infrastructure projects.
“I still have to figure out how to pay for our transportation fund,” he said.
Lamont told DiPentima “we’re in the ninth inning” in terms of Connecticut's battle against the coronavirus, and predicted a strong economic recovery.
“I’m a baseball fan, I know a lot of games are won and lost in the ninth inning ... but if we stick to our strategy I think you’re going to find June’s a pretty nice month,” he said.
“I think our economy is like a coiled spring. I think it could snap back pretty quickly over the course of the next three to six months.”
But Lamont agreed with one of the central themes of CBIA’s Rebuilding Connecticut campaign, that it will take cooperation between business and government for the state to successfully recover from the pandemic.
“I want to work together, I want to work with CBIA, I want to work with you [business leaders] to make sure we come up with a long-term strategy that gets Connecticut back to work,” Lamont said.
That strategy should utilize the state’s assistance with workforce development, daycare, and apprenticeships, he said.
Four state legislators, among a bipartisan group of 55 lawmakers who signed CBIA's Rebuilding Connecticut pledge, talked with the organization's Eric Gjede about their support for those policy recommendations.
Sen. Joan Hartley (D-Waterbury) told the Business Day audience she never signs policy pledges and "was probably the last one to sign on" to Rebuilding Connecticut.
“This is an unusual time and, first and foremost, it’s about coming together, and rebuilding better and stronger,” Hartley said.
“I think this state has that opportunity uniquely and there are some real silver linings here.”
Sen. Kevin Witkos (R-Canton) said lawmakers should embrace the pledge because successful businesses grow the economy, create jobs, and put more people on tax rolls.
“I think it’s important as policymakers that we publicly stand up and support our businesses and do so in a pledge,” he said.
Rep. Holly Cheeseman (R-Niantic) said she signed the pledge because she understands that when Connecticut businesses succeed, so does Connecticut.
“We don’t improve the lives of people in Connecticut by cutting an ever-shrinking pike into smaller and smaller pieces. We need to grow that pie,” Cheeseman said.
“The way that we grow that pie is to enable businesses to succeed, to create the environment in which they can succeed.”
“Getting out of COVID should be about investing in Connecticut and how we move our state forward,” said Rep. Kerry Wood (D-Rocky Hill), a co-chair of the legislature's Moderate Democratic Blue Dog Caucus.
Wood said she particularly liked the pledge’s call for streamlining state permitting processes, and for more public-private partnerships.
“I’m a huge fan of looking outside the box,” she said. “It’s not always the state that should be making these investments.
“We have all the tools and resources here to find the solutions to move our state forward.”
Wood, who also co-chairs the legislature's Insurance and Real Estate Committee, made recent headlines when she successfully amended the controversial public option bill during a committee meeting.
Wood’s amendment, which passed with bipartisan support, subjects the proposed state-run healthcare plan to more oversight, including requiring an annual independent audit.
“It has much more transparency,” Wood said. “It is now under the scrutiny of a full audit, consumer protections were greatly strengthened, and it’s regulated by the Department of Insurance.
”All of those concerns about risk and drawing from the General Fund and adversely affecting our budget are gone.”
Connecticut Business Day 2021 was produced by CBIA and the Connecticut Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives and made possible through the generous support of AT&T, with additional support from DoorDash.