Delivering a balanced budget and creating a business environment that encourages job growth were among the key legislative issues that state officials addressed last week during the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce’s annual legislative breakfast meeting in Bristol. Southington legislators spoke at the meeting.
These issues also serve as two major priorities that the chamber’s Regional Legislative Action Committee recently completed for the 2017 legislative session, which kicked off on Jan. 4.
Sponsored by The Ultimate Companies, Inc., Webster Bank, ESPN, Covanta Energy and Bristol Hospital, the breakfast meeting took place last Tuesday at the DoubleTree Hotel, where local officials, chamber affiliates, and small and large businesses were in attendance.
The panel featured State Representative and House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin, Southington), State Rep. Whit Betts (R-Bristol, Plymouth Terryville), State Rep. Mike Demicco (D-Farmington), State Sen. Joe Markley (R-Southington, Cheshire, Prospect, Waterbury, Wolcott), State Sen. Henri Martin (R-Bristol, Plainville, Harwinton, Plymouth, Thomaston), State Rep. Chris Ziogas (D-Bristol), and State Rep. Dr. William Petit (R-Plainville, New Britain).
With a projected budget deficit of over $1 billion, all panelists agreed that finding a solution to the state’s financial problem will be a challenge, but presented different ways to cut costs.
Aresimowicz said he has urged his caucus to review each line item of the budget.
“This year will be more difficult,” said Aresimowicz. “If there’s something in the budget that isn’t giving us the results we want, we’re going to cut it. We’re also going to look at the core functions of the state to decide what we do well and what we don’t do so well.”
Markley said the issue is how to get to a balanced budget—which cannot be achieved by raising taxes.
“My line in the sand is, we must not raise taxes again,” said Markley, adding how the state faced the largest tax increases historically in 2011 and 2015. “These tax increases in and of themselves have been depressive on the economy. The revenues have not come in as expected because the increases have driven industry out of state into bankruptcy. They’ve discouraged innovation and they’ve suppressed demands for goods.”
Markley added later on how these tax increases are discouraging for businesses that may want to move to Connecticut. He noted the need for predictability.
“One of the things that have been very discouraging for businesses is to look at our fiscal situation,” said Markley, when addressing how to create a business environment that encourages job growth.
To encourage job growth, Aresimowicz said he has put forward a package of bills that were done in a bipartisan way, including one that separates vocational technical schools from the Connecticut State Department of Education.
“We’re going to put them [vo-tech schools] out on their own, let them explore public/private partnerships, let them get additional funding,” said Aresimowicz.
Another bill to that would encourage job growth is tax credits for college graduates to keep them in the state.
“Maybe the first year when you graduate, you come back to Connecticut, you start a full-time job, 100 percent of your income tax is waived, 75 percent the second year, 50 percent the third, 25 [percent] the fourth [year],” said Aresimowicz. “That will keep the graduates here.”
During the event, the Regional Legislative Action Committee addressed its third priority: support for hospitals. This involves rejecting all proposals to reduce supplemental payments to hospitals and rejecting all proposals to increase hospital taxes while supporting efforts to phase-out the hospital tax.
Kurt Barwis, president & CEO of Bristol Hospital, asked the legislators what the no-profit could expect during the 2017 Legislative Session.
“We really have been pushed very hard, and it’s a balancing act because we do so much for the communities. We’re economic drivers,” said Barwis during the event’s Q&A segment.
Betts, a longtime proponent of Bristol Hospital, said he did not have a definitive answer, but expressed confidence that many legislators will react with strong resistance if community hospitals continue to lose more funding.
“The legislature coalesced and he [the governor] is now meeting very strong resistance…from Democrats and Republicans in both the Senate and the House,” said Betts. “I’m pretty confident that’s going to be a very heavy lift because of the adverse consequences that has in terms of unemployment, as well as weakening our healthcare system.”