Connecticut Business Day: Making a Point to the Legislators

Today, I attended the Connecticut Business & Industry Association Connecticut Business Day event at the State Legislative Office Building in Hartford. This is one of my favorite days of the year. I represented Horst Engineering in an effort to convey the challenges that small and mid-sized businesses face. Leading a small company is never easy, but the past two years have been particularly difficult. The Connecticut legislature has a majority that is often accused of being hostile to the business community.

There are arguments on both sides, but from my perspective, the legislature could do better job at addressing the number one concern of the business community, which is that Connecticut is a very costly place to do business. Why? A variety of reasons, including: high compensation costs, payroll taxes, high health insurance costs, expensive utilities, high workers compensation costs, high unemployment taxes, high property taxes, state income taxes, sales taxes, entity taxes, corporate income taxes, fees, and mandates.

Today was a day to join forces and speak out on a variety of issues. The state is facing a current $515 million budget deficit. It would have been worse if we didn’t have a rainy day fund. It will get worse if the future is mortgaged to pay for the next budget. Governor Jodi Rell, who is in her final year of service, spoke to a packed house of business and legislative leaders. Rell was introduced by CBIA President and CEO, John Rathgeber. He said that “It’s all about the economy.” CBIA has launched a huge Saving CT Jobs advertising campaign. 94,000 Connecticut jobs have been lost during this current recession, and even more people are underemployed. Rathgeber went on to say that the number one goal should be to “restore confidence in Connecticut.”

When Governor Rell spoke, she called for the restoration of “fiscal sanity.” She said there were a lot of bad bills in this new legislative session that would make it harder for businesses to compete. She touted a new direct loans program for small businesses and went on to say, “If we don’t have it, we can’t spend it. If we don’t need it, don’t borrow it.”

This message to the lawmakers was clear. She was not on the original event agenda, but I was pleased that she came to speak. She has taken shots from all sides and I have had issues with her leadership approach and visibility, but it is important that she get out front at the beginning of this legislative session and advocate for fiscal prudence. It was nice to hear from her on these issues.

After Governor Rell spoke, we heard from the scheduled speaker, State Comptroller Nancy Wyman. Comptroller Wyman painted a bleak picture of state finances. She warned against gimmicks in an attempt to close the deficit gap. She said that many of the major revenue streams were down, including payroll taxes, sales taxes, and the new tax on high wage earners. She referred to the numbers as “gloomy.” The state workers retirement benefits and health care benefits are two huge problems. Major unfunded liabilities remain as the cost of these benefits climbs sky-high. She cautioned that the legislature should force efficiencies on government the way that private enterprise has adopted lean.

Following the group session, I participated in one of four breakout sessions. I spoke on a panel about taxes. I was joined by several business leaders. One of the other small business leaders was Peter Kent of Bicron Electronics, the CBIA Board President. The larger business community was represented by individuals from General Electric, General Dynamics, Webster Bank, and United Technologies. I felt like a little fish, but still got my points across. We sparred with several lawmakers over tax policy, the condition of the economy, and the strengths/weaknesses of doing business in Connecticut.

All in all, it was time well spent. I was back at our plant by noon and feeling confident that business (both big and small) scored some points at the State Capitol today.

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