By LISA CAPOBIANCO
In preparation for the 2015 Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce Legislative Session, the Connecticut Business & Industry Association created a list of general goals and concerns, such as reducing unfunded mandates and taxes on towns and businesses, in particular eliminating the $300 business entity tax.
State Senator Markley (R-Southington) made a pitch for local business when he addressed legislative breakfast on Tuesday, Jan. 6 in Bristol. Markley said more decisions have been shifted over to the state level which should be handled at the local level, adding how the state faces a deficit of at least $2 billion. Markley, who just began his fourth term, does not support a tax increase for the upcoming state budget.
“It has been bad policies that have gotten the state to the situation it’s in,” said Markley, whose family came from a small business background. “We have many years of going in the wrong direction in my opinion.”
From supporting local STEM workforce development to reducing unfunded mandates to recapturing and developing walkways and bikeways, the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce narrowed down a variety of priorities and actions it plans to address at the state level this year.
The 2015 Legislative Session officially kicked off Jan. 7, and will end on June 3. This is a full session that will determine the next two-year budget for Connecticut.
During the chamber’s annual Legislative Breakfast held at Nuchie’s last Tuesday, state legislators met with the local business community to address their own priorities and concerns this year.
Jim Albert, president and CEO of the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce, said the goal is for the business community to be more proactive about legislative issues it finds important.
Under its region-wide priorities and specific actions, the chamber hopes to add funding to the existing Central Connecticut Revolving Loan Fund, promote tourism/ACE (arts, culture entertainment) development, and promote and support bioscience zone/corridor marketing and incentives, as well as restore historical and cultural buildings through code requirements and energy efficiency upgrades.
“The business community…has not been as proactive in the legislative process as it could be,” said Albert, adding how the chamber will work with local legislators on programs or bills centered on its priorities and specific actions. “We look at the legislative agenda out of Hartford and we react to things we don’t like. What we’ve been doing in the last couple of months is to be a little bit more proactive and…positive about things we actually want to hold our legislative officials accountable too.”
Sponsored by Covanta Energy, Bristol Hospital, Webster Bank, the Ultimate Companies, and Connecticut On-Line Computer Center, the event featured local politicians representing Bristol like State Representative Whit Betts (R-78), State Representative Frank Nicastro (D-79), and newly elected Senator Henri Martin. Other speakers included Markley and state Representative Mike Demicco (D-21).
“I love our state,” said Nicastro, applauding the growth of local businesses like ESPN. “We all have to work together. There’s an opportunity every time there is a problem.”
In its legislative document, CBIA also said it puts a priority on improving and upgrading the state’s roads, highways, bridges and rail systems by restricting the use of the Special Transportation Fund to just transportation projects and programs.
Encouraging the business community to be proactive, Senator Martin said transportation will play a major role in improving the economy, as it affects local businesses on a daily basis. Martin, who will serve on the Transportation Committee, added that improving the economy also starts with fixing the projected state deficit.
“If we don’t pay attention to transportation, our transportation right now…think about what you’re going to experience,” said Martin, adding how states with lower taxes and less government attract more businesses and jobs. “Transportation is going to be a key player in turning this economy around because it’s going to affect the businesses. They need to get their products in and out of the state
Another legislative priority addressed during the event included the support of hospital reimbursements and reducing taxes on healthcare entities.
Noting how Connecticut has become one of the most unfriendly states for businesses, Betts expressed his concern for hospital taxes and the reduction in hospital reimbursements. Betts also noted his disappointment in the number of requirements imposed by the state when Tenet Healthcare Corp. intended to acquire five Connecticut hospitals, including Bristol Hospital. In December, Tenet announced its decision to withdraw its application in acquiring all five hospitals due to those state requirements.
“It makes no sense to me, and this collapse basically said, we are in for a very rough ride over the next five to 10 years on healthcare in Connecticut,” said Betts, adding the state government must rethink its role. “It could have done so much for the employees, for recruiting positions, for providing state-of-the-art medical care—it’s an enormous disappointment to me.”
During the event, Bristol Hospital President and CEO Kurt Barwis said the state this year cut the hospital’s reimbursement by $2.4 million. Barwis said the hospital recently found out the state would cut another $750,000.
“If you look back over the last four to five years, cuts to hospitals in the state have been massive,” said Barwis, adding those current cuts by the state are confusing. “We’re business people too.”
Betts replied, “We should be asking the real roles of government.” He added the hospital tax should be eliminated. “Are they our partners or are they our adversaries,” said Betts.