Fixing transportation, state finances, and Connecticut’s attractiveness to young people are just three of the many ways lawmakers can improve Connecticut’s business climate.

House Republican Leader Themis Klarides (left) makes a point at the meeting as CBIA's Bonnie Stewart and House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz listen.
House Republican Leader Themis Klarides (left) makes a point at the meeting as CBIA’s Bonnie Stewart and House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz listen.

That’s what about three dozen small business and manufacturing leaders told House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin) and House Republican Leader Themis Klarides (R-Derby) in a meeting this morning in Hartford.

Aresimowicz and Klarides were invited by members of CBIA’s Small Business Advisory Council and Manufacturers Advisory Council to talk about recent economic news and look at what’s ahead in the legislative session to begin on Feb. 3.

The House’s two leaders, whose positions often pit them on opposite sides of major issues, exhibited a high level of mutual respect throughout their wide-ranging and candid discussion.

New Urgency

General Electric’s recent decision to leave Connecticut has sparked a little more urgency in discussions about the state’s business climate.

Aresimowicz said there’s “a realization at the Capitol that we need to rebrand ourselves [as a state].”

He added he wants this year’s legislative session to “take a comprehensive look at the state’s economic development and business attitude.”

Said Klarides, “We’re at the point where we need to think outside the box. We need to new and inventive ways to make sure every sector is thriving.”

‘Lock It and Leave It’

Much talk centered on the state budget and how the constant cycle of deficits and tax increases were making it harder and harder to do business in Connecticut.

“The inconsistency and unreliability of [us] doing something different every year doesn’t give you confidence in Connecticut,” admitted Aresimowicz.

The inconsistency and unreliability of the legislature doing something different every year doesn’t give you confidence in Connecticut.
— House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz
If the state arrives at a good and workable fiscal strategy, he added, we should “lock it up and leave it alone.”

Klarides said Republicans have been locked out of discussions on state finances until recently, but continue to offer viable alternatives—with one condition.

“We can’t agree to a plan unless you include structural changes to state government,” she said.

Rather than follow the Transportation Finance Study Group’s recent recommendations for several tolls and tax changes to fix Connecticut’s infrastructure, Klarides renewed the call to redirect current bonding to fund transportation improvements.

“Enough with the taxes!" she said. "We have to control spending and borrowing.”

Best, Brightest, Youngest

Aresimowicz said the best way to stabilize state finances is to grow our economy, but he also named paring layers of middle management by attrition in state government, making the state more “user-friendly” to businesses, and finding ways to keep young people in the state.

“We want to attract the best, the brightest, the youngest,” said Aresimowicz.

He said he would be proposing a plan to allow graduates of state colleges and universities to come back to Connecticut and not have to pay state income tax for several years so they can pay down their student debt—and most important, stay here.

Enough with taxes! We have to control spending and borrowing.
— House Republican Leader Themis Klarides
His plan is similar to the Republicans’ “Learn Here, Live Here” program, which GOP lawmakers introduced a few years ago, said Klarides, to help recent graduates afford, and buy, their first houses in the state.

Many of the business leaders commented that they had good working relations with area community colleges and even high schools in developing talent.

Manufacturers spoke up about the need to start with educating middle school children and their parents about the potential opportunities that await them.

Klarides and Aresimowicz both urged business leaders to keep the lines of communication open and invite legislators to visit their businesses.

The 2016 session of the General Assembly begins Wednesday, Feb. 3.