Transform Connecticut: ‘A Thoughtful, Strategic Plan’
Why did almost half the members of the General Assembly pledge support for CBIA’s Transform Connecticut policy solutions?
House Majority Leader Jason Rojas (D-East Hartford) said he looked at the 12-point policy recommendations and “saw a really thoughtful, strategic plan.”
Speaking at CBIA’s Jan. 19 Economic Summit + Outlook, Rojas [pictured above] also said he wanted to send a signal that his caucus values and supports Connecticut’s business community.
“Having the House Majority Leader sign on to that pledge was a signal to businesses that we do care about these issues and we’re serious about addressing a lot of the concerns that you have,” he said.
Rojas, House Republican Leader Vincent Candelora (R-North Branford), and state senators Christine Cohen (D-Guilford) and Heather Somers (R-Mystic) spoke with CBIA’s Eric Gjede at the summit about their legislative priorities.
The four lawmakers were among a bipartisan group of 84 legislators that signed the Transform Connecticut pledge, a package of solutions designed to address the state’s labor shortage crisis and drive economic growth.
‘Back on Track‘
“I think everything that’s in that pledge is exactly the footprint that we need to change the landscape for businesses here in the state of Connecticut—that’s why I signed,” said Somers.
Cohen said as a small business owner, she appreciated the “multifaceted approach” the policy recommendations provide to get Connecticut’s economy “back on track.”
Candelora said the focus of the pledge was “a little bit broader than just business.”
“It looked at other quality of life issues that end up putting pressures inadvertently on companies, like student loan debt,” he said.
“Those are conversations I think we all need to have, and businesses need to have a vested interest in.”
Gjede noted that the Transform Connecticut policy points were drawn directly from CBIA’s membership.
“They’re really looking for lawmakers in Hartford to solve some of these issues,” Gjede said.
Gjede added that numerous employers expressed the need for solutions to the state’s housing shortage, “a key contributing factor to the labor shortage.”
Rojas said housing is “one of the primary economic issues” in Connecticut, and the lack of affordable housing “has direct implications for the high cost of living.”
Somers said she is exploring the idea of offering incentives to businesses interested in providing workforce housing.
“I have the honor of representing Electric Boat, I have Pfizer in my district, and I have some of our largest employers,” she said.
“I hear from them everyday about the struggles they have with finding appropriate housing for employees.
“And without housing, they can’t live here, they can’t come here.”
Candelora said he believes reducing the income tax for middle-income earners and restoring and expanding small business tax credits are the best way to use the budget surplus.
Candelora said one of his session priorities is restoring the pass-through entity tax credit, which “will help make Connecticut more competitive at a time when we have such a huge surplus.”
“I’m happy to see that CBIA put that on the agenda,” he added.
“It wasn’t even a tax break for corporations or businesses—we were trying to make them whole because of what the federal government had done. We want to restore that fix.”
Gov. Ned Lamont, who also shared his session priorities at the summit, announced Jan. 18 that his budget proposal will include full restoration of the credit, which will impact about 123,000 small businesses.
Somers’ priorities include tax incentives, investing in workforce development, and maintaining the state’s statutory fiscal guardrails.
“My priorities in this session have to do with what I’m seeing my constituents face,” she said.
“Businesses, families, teachers, nurses—I think Connecticut needs to be made much more affordable than it is.”
Cohen—who co-chairs the legislature’s Transportation Committee—said her focus is on securing millions of dollars in competitive grants through the 2021 federal infrastructure bill.
“Whatever we can do to get the people of Connecticut and outside of Connecticut to where they need to go in a fast, efficient, safe manner, in a cost-efficient way,” she said.
Connecticut’s current fiscal health largely stems from the bipartisan fiscal reforms—including spending, volatility, and bonding caps—implemented by lawmakers in 2017.
“I don’t think there is significant energy to do away with the caps,” Rojas said.
“I certainly stand by keeping the caps in place. The volatility cap, the spending cap, the bonding cap—those are things we should keep in place.
“We wanted to signal to our members and the taxpaying community that we are committed to maintaining those caps, because we’ve seen the economic benefit of them.”
Cohen agreed, saying the volatility cap “has really been integral in making sure we are back on track.”
She said the volatility cap was critical for the state’s current fiscal health and addressing Connecticut’s long-term state employee pension and retirement liabilities.
“Statutes can be changed, it happens all the time,” she said. “But I just don’t think there’s the will to do that because they have been working so effectively.”
Attracting, Retaining Talent
Gjede asked the four lawmakers about policy options for addressing the state’s labor shortage.
Somers said student loans, coupled with Connecticut’s high cost of living, made it difficult for young people to stay and move here.
“They don’t have that ability,” she said. “They want to be here, they want the opportunity, but it’s very expensive, and many of them are paying down staggering debt.
“So how do we balance those to attract that talent?”
Rojas noted there are short-term and long-term solutions, adding that public-private partnerships are critical to attract and retain young workers.
“Certainly government needs to invest in education in the ways that are necessary,” he said. “But we also need employers to begin to invest in their employees too.
“We also have to find a way to get them in the classroom, get them acclimated quickly, and get them into the workplace, so that you can retain them.”
During the pandemic, the state borrowed nearly $1 billion from the federal government to pay record-high unemployment claims.
While policymakers leveraged federal COVID relief funds to meet some of that debt, businesses face higher unemployment taxes to meet the balance.
Cohen said it was “incumbent upon the state to relieve that burden for business owners across the state.”
“We want to make it easier for businesses to be here,” she said.
Cohen said the debt should be extinguished by 2025, but that costs will continue rising until then.
Candelora said when the initial $200 million was paid, the economy was completely different.
“We didn’t have inflation. We didn’t have the healthcare or insurance cost increases. We didn’t have the labor shortage,” he said.
“All of that impacts a businesses’ ability to be profitable, and so I think we have got to revisit that this year.
“We’re not out of the woods.”
Rojas encouraged business leaders to engage with their legislators.
“I know it seems cliche, but it does matter when you reach out to us,” he said.
“When I hear from businesses in my district, I’m very quick to respond, and I’m also happy to go pay a visit so I can learn a little bit more about what you’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis.”
Somers called on employers to “let us know how we can help you.”
“We want to be your voice in the legislature, to bring your thoughts and ideas,” she said.
Candelora emphasized the importance of employers reaching out to legislators and sharing their experiences over the past few years.
“We want to hear from you in this process, because we’ve got to fix this as we’re transitioning to this hybrid world, which is going to be somewhat permanent,” he said.
Cohen touted bipartisanship in the legislature as a path to relieve the burden on employers.
“We have our charge,” she said. “We need to make sure Connecticut works for all businesses, all sectors, all people across the state, making sure we’re doing what we can to bring people into the state.”
“How do we continue that momentum and ensure that businesses have the workforce that they need, that we have childcare, that we have housing for people?”
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