By LISA CAPOBIANCO
Recent studies show that nearly 50 percent of residents in Connecticut are leaving or plan to leave. It also is rated as the worst state in the union to retire, as indicated by the most current U.S. News and World Report statistics.
During a debate sponsored by Central Connecticut Chambers last Monday, local candidates running for the state representative and senate seats offered insight on how to turn this situation around in order to attract the next generation of educated workers here.
Josh Levesque, Republican state representative candidate for the 79th District, said one solution is to promote jobs in Connecticut and to reduce the costs and burdens of doing business. Levesque noted how the state of New York offers new businesses 10 years of tax-free business time, and suggested that Connecticut should do the same.
“We need to create a more business friendly environment through tax credits and exemptions,” said Levesque. “They need all the money they can get to get their business up and running off the ground. We need to draw in state-of-the-art jobs that bring new college students or keep college students here.”
Levesque also suggested reducing the cost of living for retirees and to invest in Connecticut’s infrastructure by enhancing the state’s highways to draw in new businesses and workers.
“We need to invest in brand new highway systems, brand new transit,” said Levesque.
Levesque’s opponent, Frank Nicastro, Democratic state representative candidate for the 79th District, said the solution lies in reducing taxes. In 2011, Nicastro said he voted against the state budget because it posted 66 new taxes, and included too much bonding.
In addressing retirement, Nicastro said companies should avoid filling positions when their employees retire.
He also said the state should offer incentives to new businesses that come to Connecticut, such as grants.
“That will draw business,” said Nicastro,
adding employees also should be trained with the Step Up program, which has worked successfully. “I did it as the mayor [of Bristol] for 10 years. We knew we would recapture that money back in taxes in a matter of a couple years, but more importantly, we would create new jobs for the city.”
Rob Michalik, Democratic State Senate candidate for District 31, said while speaking with various homeowners face to face, he found that the high cost of property taxes could serve as a factor for residents wanting to leave the state.
Michalik said the state should take the burden off those residents by reforming the property tax system.
“Those taxes continue to go up and up,” said Michalik, adding that measures should be taken to alleviate student loan debt.
Besides property tax reform, Michalik said the key to keeping residents in Connecticut is by providing good, high-paying jobs. He said the state could accomplish this by “pulling the line on taxes and spending,” “reducing the regulatory burden on businesses,” and to make “sound and prudent investments in transportation, education, and innovation.”
“If we could do all of that we could find more people staying here in the state, we’ll attract more people here,” said Michalik.
Michalik’s opponent, Henri Martin, suggested more measures to help seniors living on a fixed income. Martin said the state should eliminate the taxes on seniors’ pensions. He added “The high utility costs, the food, the medical costs, and property taxes is one of the common threads that goes out to all the seniors,” said Martin, adding that the DNA of each community to determine how to attract young adults to the state and to keep them here is by addressing taxes. “Taxes keep rising, and they just can’t afford this.”
During the debate, one question addressed the issue of the large number of people who are unemployed long-term in the latest recession, which has reduced tax revenues and increased reliance on social safety net programs to the extent where the state enacted a new tax on employers of $7.50 per month per employee to replenish the unemployment fund.
Cara Pavalock, Republican state representative candidate for the 77th District, said that particular tax places a major burden on employers. She said Connecticut should re-evaluate its budget in order to improve the overall economic climate, especially for businesses.
“Connecticut is on the bottom of economic recovery,” said Pavalock. “We have to take a look at our budget, (and) cut our spending because this ultimately is what’s affecting everybody’s confidence and their willingness to invest in their businesses and ultimately in our state economy. We need to stop paying operating expenses with bonds.”
Democrat Chris Wright, Pavalock’s opponent, said the economy should be examined as a whole system. Wright said the biggest problem with the U.S. economy as a whole is that the average working person is no longer sharing in the increase in value in the companies that is being created by their labor.
“Today what we see is more and more…of the wealth of the nation being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands,” said Wright. “One of the ways that you deal with that… [is by] increasing the minimum wage…which will increase economic activity. Every report I’ve seen has indicated that is what will happen as the average person has more money in their pocket and spends more. Businesses will then have to hire more people.”
In addressing the issue of unemployment, Martin said the solution lies in improving Connecticut’s economic competitiveness by first resolving the state’s fiscal issues.
He also suggested the rebirth of manufacturing in the state and the promotion of more jobs in that field.
“I think we need to continue working with employers to fill this gap in training…and to grow their business,” said Martin. “We need to encourage the next generation that’s coming up to continue a career in manufacturing and the industrial production. This includes educating our children in the middle school and the high school levels—they need to be exposed to these great opportunities that await them in the trades and in the manufacturing sector.”
Michalik said the solution lies in the growth of jobs and the economy. Besides getting the fiscal house in order and investing in transportation and education, Michalik said investing in education serves as another crucial factor in growing the economy.
“When you’re talking about folks who are long-term unemployed, you need to set up systems that give these folks job training, skills training, skills assessment, [and] placement services,” said Michalik.
Another question during the debate addressed the current trend of local hospitals (such as Bristol Hospital) joining larger networks as competition and financial pressures grow.
Dan Santorso, Democratic State Representative candidate for the 78th District, said he does not support larger networks buying community hospitals like Bristol Hospital.
“What we have is a large Texas corporation that is acquiring a local Connecticut hospital that is self-sustaining—it’s not like Bristol Hospital is going under,” said Santorso. “It’s just not the right direction to be going.”
Whit Betts, Republican state representative candidate for the 78th District, said Bristol Hospital has been his top priority since he was elected in 2010. Betts applauded the hospital in its effort to join Tenet Healthcare. He said partnering with a larger company was necessary in order for the hospital to strengthen itself financially and to update infrastructure and new equipment effectively.
“They took a proactive [move] in determining what is going to make that hospital stronger and viable…for 25 years and more,” said Betts. “We want to get good, quality, medical care in our community.”
By LISA CAPOBIANCO