By KAITLYN NAPLES
At last year’s Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce legislative breakfast, Attorney Tim Furey, now the chairman of the chamber’s Board of Directors, challenged the legislators to attend the breakfast the following year, with at least one of the hundreds of unfunded mandates, abolished.
Even though it wasn’t a large unfunded mandate, and according to Furey probably saved taxpayers about $500, Democratic State Representative Frank Nicastro assisted in getting rid of a mandate that required the Central Connecticut Regional Planning Agency to provide paper copies of records of proposals and more to towns. Now, the agency can do this electronically.
“While this saved maybe $500, we ended up getting about 40 more unfunded mandates in the last year,” Furey said.
President and CEO of the chamber, Michael Nicastro, said some of the concerns the chamber and business owners have revolve around revenue, cost management, debt, as well as unfunded mandates, regionalization efforts, the threshold of the prevailing wage, and support for manufacturers and technical schools, among others.
“Our manufacturers are screaming for skilled help,” Nicastro told the crowd of business leaders and legislators last week at the Aqua Turf in Southington, adding that the concerns and recommendations he was providing at the breakfast were all from chamber members, and business owners who have a genuine concern for the future of their establishments.
Nicastro also commented on the governor’s First Five program, an initiative awards financial assistance to the first five companies that pledge to add at least 200 full-time jobs in Connecticut within the next two years. ESPN was the recipient of this in 2011, because it plans to bring at least 200 full-time jobs with its new digital center. However, Nicastro said, a hedge fund in Fairfield was a “First Five” company, but it plans to relocate its office and move current employees.
“We don’t see this really taking off,” he said, adding that investment needs to not fall on the back of the state, but of the private sector. He added that taking risky investments will happen, but the state shouldn’t be taking “every risky investment.” Nicastro said the state needs to “stop using the credit card.”
The legislators at last week’s breakfast spoke about what their plans are in the next session.
State Senator Jason Welch (R-31) said legislators need to be held accountable more for the goings-on in Hartford.
“Any time the legislature talks about cutting aid to municipalities, it should be partnered with the elimination of mandates of equal value,” Welch said last week.
Unfunded mandates are a large burden on cities and towns, as well as the state.
State Representative Whit Betts (D-78), a Republican who covers Bristol, Plymouth and Terryville, said the hospitals and healthcare system can’t continue to be burdened to cover deficits.
“The hospital is one of the most important, essential foundations in our community,” Betts said.
He also said he wants to bring up the Business Entity Tax, which is a tax payable each taxable year by a business.
“Why are we taxing people who have the right to make a living?” Betts said, adding that he doesn’t think it is helpful to have this tax if the state wants to welcome businesses.
“We’ve been spending, but we haven’t been held accountable,” Betts continued. He said he believes there will be some “real cuts” that will be made this year.
State Representative Frank Nicastro (D-79), who covers Bristol and Forestville, agreed that legislators are going to “accomplish much more this year. We’re going to see more positive things come out of Hartford.”
Nicastro said anyone can pass a law or a bill, but they need to be enforced.
“Sometimes we pass bills and don’t realize the implications they have,” Nicastro said.
Nicastro also said bipartisanship and “reaching across the aisle to work together” needs to happen in government, and will with the new leadership.
State Representative Chris Wright (D-77), a Democrat who covers Bristol, said the state will face budget problems this year, which is coming in at a $1 billion to $1.2 billion deficit.
“This year we need to look at all of the programs and make some decisions on where to trim or cut.”