By KAITLYN NAPLES
With the legislative session right around the corner, the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce’s annual legislative breakfast came at an opportune time. Legislators from the area answered questions from chamber members and business owners last Thursday morning at the Hilton DoubleTree. They also were able to give everyone a glimpse into what may be coming down the pike during the session, which begins on Feb. 5.
Growing the economy for young people and improving manufacturing opportunities were two main focuses at last week’s breakfast, which sparked conversation about incentives the state provides and where its priorities need to be regarding a boost in the state’s economy and job creation.
“People are coming out of school with massive amounts of debt and no jobs,” said new chamber president Jim Albert, who added to comments made to legislators regarding how the state will put people back to work and provide opportunities for younger generations.
“The community colleges have blossomed,” said Democratic State Representative Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Boukus (D-Plainville and New Britain), adding that more emphasis needs to be made on the local school’s technical education, or “shop” programs.
Democratic State Representative Chris Wright (D-Bristol) said manufacturers receive tax breaks from the state and municipalities, and added manufacturing jobs are out there and are taken by individuals who will ultimately buy homes and help to increase the tax base.
Republican State Senator Joseph Markley (D-Southington, Wolcott, Cheshire and Waterbury) agreed the community colleges have adapted to the changes in the economy and society and are “very forward thinking.” He added he’d like to see the state focus more on the community colleges, as well as remember the importance of a liberal arts education.
The legislators also discussed the governor’s “First Five” initiative that began in 2011. The program granted funds to local businesses that were expanding in two years and creating at least 200 new jobs. There has been some controversy around this program and the companies that have benefitted from it.
State Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, a Republican, said there isn’t enough money to pay every company that is looking to move or expand.
“I don’t think the government should be paying businesses to create jobs,” McKinney said at the breakfast. McKinney added there was no legislative oversight in the First Five program, therefore no legislators were involved in decision making or discussions on which companies deserved funding.
Democratic State Representative Frank Nicastro (D-Bristol) said there is a difference in the government giving money to businesses that are looking to expand, and giving money to businesses to move from one town to another.
“Sometimes they (businesses) have a great idea but don’t have the funds (for expansion),” Nicastro said, referencing the adage “if you spend $1 you get $10 back; what are they giving the state in return?” He said the state needs to ask these businesses this question.
Markley said he is suspicious of government involvement in business investment, as it can lead to corrupt decisions.
“I would rather have a lower debt burden than private investments,” Markley added.
Republican State Representative Whit Betts (D-Bristol and Plymouth) said the state needs to be a move business friendly environment.
“We have a long way to go, and nobody should be under the illusion we are in good shape,” Betts said referring to the information of a surplus in the state budget that has been released recently. “The bulk of the surplus is from you; from those high taxes we imposed on you and your business.”
Betts said the state government needs to focus on controlling unfunded mandates, and its expenses.
Albert said the state has been at the “bottom of the lists” that are published in national newspapers and magazines regarding business and economic growth and more.
“We have a lot going for us but the negatives are overwhelming the positives when it comes to business relocation,” he added.
In the upcoming session, Betts said he believes the discussions of for-profit hospitals will come up especially in light of recent legislation approved by the governor regarding the acquisition of non-profit hospitals.
Nicastro said he plans to continue to speak his mind and stand up to his beliefs and those of his constituents. He said he has voted across party lines, and voted against Democrat endorsed issues like the busway, or the merging of the state’s regional planning agencies.
“I love this city and I want to see it prosper,” Nicastro added.
Boukus said the legislators need to continue to work for the better of the state, and work together “to come up with a movement in the right direction.”
Comments? Email knaples@BristolObserver. com.
By KAITLYN NAPLES