New House Majority Leader Jason Rojas (D-East Hartford) was among the first state lawmakers to sign CBIA's Rebuilding Connecticut policy pledge.
The pledge "articulates a vision of how we can improve our business climate and grow our state's economy," Rojas said during the Jan. 22 Economic Summit + Outlook.
"I happen to believe that if it came from CBIA it reflects a pretty broad spectrum of businesses here in Connecticut," he added.
Rojas was among a bipartisan group of 55 state lawmakers who signed the pledge.
The Rebuilding Connecticut policy recommendations provide a roadmap for rebounding from the pandemic, getting people back to work, and driving growth.
"It's helpful information for any legislator or policymaker to be aware of," said Rojas, one of 18 Democrats who signed the pledge.
"It's a vision for moving our state forward and many components of it are consistent with things I think are important."
Osten, co-chair of the legislature's Appropriations Committee, said she signed the pledge for two reasons: It supports workforce development and calls for improving the state’s transportation infrastructure.
"Number one for me is to get workforce development moving forward," she said.
"We are going to see a lot of people who need to repurpose their careers because some of our industries are not going to come back at full force for months, if not years."
Infrastructure investment is also critical to moving Connecticut forward, she added.
"We need to put some real dollars into fixing our transportation system," Osten said.
"That is the top issue business owners talk to me about: How can I get my product from Point A to Point B faster?"
There was a lot about the pledge that attracted Somers, although most important was the call for legislators to work together to resolve Connecticut's problems.
"I thought that was very important and I think we need more bipartisan input into the budget and bills going forward."
Somers said that even though Democrats control the legislature, "we need all voices at the table so we can come up with the best solutions for the people of Connecticut."
There’s nothing in the pledge that O'Dea, the Deputy House Republican Leader, doesn't support.
"'Grow small business' has been my mantra since I got to Hartford," O'Dea said.
"Any legislation that comes before me that doesn't grow jobs, I'm going to have a problem with."
The lawmakers agreed that recovering from the pandemic—and helping Connecticut businesses recover—is a top priority this legislative session.
"Most of us [Republican senators] are small business owners and understand the impact, not only to our schools but to our businesses, and the connection between the two," Somers said.
"We want to do everything we can to support small and large businesses.
"I think the difference you will find going forward will be how both caucuses decide to help them and the method with which we proceed."
Osten agreed that the two caucuses will have a different approach to helping the state's businesses recover.
"How we fix this problem for small businesses is going to be the great debate," Osten said.
"But everybody is in lockstep about doing something for small businesses."
Rojas said the Democratic House caucus has consistently spoken about the pandemic's impact on small businesses, including restaurants, during their regular meetings.
"There's a lot of sensitivity and a lot of interest in trying to figure out exactly how we can support them," he said.
O'Dea said the House Republican caucus is intent on helping businesses recover and rebuild. He said he's especially aware of the impact on small businesses.
No Tax Hikes
As for legislative priorities, Osten cited the need to modernize gaming to protect 12,000 jobs in Eastern Connecticut, putting a structure in place to prepare for the next pandemic, and workforce development.
Among the top issues for Rojas are ramping up COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, addressing the housing crisis the pandemic caused, and not increasing taxes on businesses "so they can continue to grow, which results in increased revenue for the state."
Somers said her focus this session is on recovering from the pandemic.
"Unless we can get COVID under control, we're going to see our economy continue to suffer," she said.
O'Dea said his focus will be where it's always been: On small businesses.
"You're the largest employers, so I'm going to do everything I can to help you grow," he said.
O'Dea said his other priority is restoring the state's unemployment trust fund.
"This pandemic was not the fault [of employers] and so I don't believe you should have to bear the brunt of the unemployment fund deficit," he said.
The 2021 Economic Summit + Outlook was produced by CBIA and the MetroHartford Alliance and made possible by the generous support of Webster Bank.