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Friday, June 27, 2014

Business Community, Legislators Address Ailing State

By James Lomuscio

The four state legislators at the Westport Library’s legislative wrap up public forum today admitted that the closing General Assembly’s session was far from dynamic.

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Legislators participatingin today’s forum included (l-r) state Sen John McKinney, Rep. Gail Lavielle, Rep. Johnathan Steinbeg, and Sen. Toni Boucher. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

“It was not an ambitious session,” state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg of Westport, a Democrat, told an audience of about 30 in the McManus Room. “We did not want to put any more burdens on businesses, contrasted to the efforts two years ago to help businesses that are finally bearing fruit.”

The forum, sponsored by the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce (WWCC) and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA) also included state Rep. Gail Lavielle, Sen. John McKinney, and Sen. Toni Boucher, all Republicans, and all who represent portions of Westport. And it it offered some sobering statistics for the state of the state, and what is needed to turn course.

Bonnie Stewart, CBIA vice president government affairs, introduced by WWCC President Matthew Mandell, moderated the forum.

The CBIA’s “CT 20x17:  Building a Brighter Economic Future for Everyone” campaign highlighted some bad news: in 2013 the state ranked No. 45 as least economically competitive state, No. 49 in transportation infrastructure, such as poor rail service, and No. 43 in the cost of doing business. Connecticut has the second highest electric rates in the nation.

Despite higher rankings of 5 in education and 17 in quality of life, the economic rankings damage business confidence, prevent private sector investments, slow economic recovery and has businesses looking to other states, according to the CBIA.

“We lost more jobs during the recession than we got back,” said McKinney, who is giving up his seat to seek the GOP nomination for governor. He added that neighboring states, like New York and Massachusetts “have recovered 100 percent of the jobs.”

Lavielle expressed disappointment that the state’s actions to help businesses “involve spending money.”

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About 30 persons attended the forum in the Westport Library’s McManus Room. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

“But businesses want to see structured costs reduced on a reliable basis,” she said, noting most businesses have a 5- to 10-year plan, but “the state does it on a two-year horizon.” As a result, she said the state winds up “playing defense.”

“We are in the midst of a transportation crisis,” said Lavielle, noting that infrastructure breakdowns such as the need to replace five bridges, including the failure-prone Metro-North Walk Bridge in Norwalk. The cost is $3.6 billion, which the state does not have, she said.

Part of the problem, she siad, is that the state’s transportation fund “has been raided” to pay the general fund, something Boucher said triggered an ultimately failed constitutional amendment to keep hands off the transportation fund.

On the plus side, several positive measures were approved this past session, McKinney said, such as a manufacturing innovation fund to draw more precision, high-tech industries to the state, a manufacturing apprenticeship program, and the creation of a Port Authority to enhance the state’s deepwater ports of New London, New Haven and Bridgeport, which would help to revitalize those cities’ economies.

Winthrop Baum, chairman of the Fairfield County Commercial Brokers Network, talked about how commercial real estate was suffering since companies lacked incentives to relocate to the state.

“We have to make the phone ring from out of state,” Baum said.

“We’re the tip of the economic spear,” he added. “You have to do a better job next time, and you have to understand that economic investment is guided by tax policy.”

He said that Fairfield County is “doing okay because of its proximity to New York,” and New Haven County is “hanging on because of Yale.” The rest of the state, however, is tantamount to the rust belt in terms of attracting businesses.

“What are you doing up there?” Baum asked. “You drive through Hartford every day. You don’t see the empty buildings up there?”

He also said that the state is on the verge of losing manufacturing, “since manufacturers seek out the lowest costs of doing business.” Baum pointed out that Sikorsky “is one contract away from relocating to Poland.”

He stressed that a business-friendly tax policy that is as true a fact for economic recovery as “the sky is blue.”

Boucher and Lavielle said not all 187 legislators are of the same mindset, and that there is at times a disconnect between southwestern Connecticut and the rest of the state.

According to Mandell, today’s forum was designed to show the “business community and residents what’s going on in Hartford.”

“When CBIA said they wanted to do this, I thought it would be a great opportunity,” he said.

Stewart said the key to bringing about changes is to have more people in business communities throughout the state talk to their legislators.


Posted 06/27/14 at 04:39 PM  Permalink


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