Legislative candidates address economic issues at business forum
Published 1:01 pm, Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Local candidates for the General Assembly got a chance Wednesday morning to let business owners know what they would do, if elected, to help improve the state's economy.
The so-called "CT20x17" forum was sponsored by the Connecticut Business & Industry Association and the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce, and focused on the CBIA's initiative to help the state crack top-20 status for business in national rankings by 2017.
State Rep. Brenda Kupchick, R-132, seeking election to a third term, said the real question isn't what elected officials plan to do to help the state rise in business rankings. "My question is, why aren't we in the top 10?"
The owner with her husband of a local heating business, Kupchick said there aren't enough small business owners represented in Hartford. "When you listen to the discussion of the (assembly's) Labor Committee, you're actually quite amazed. People who never ran a business are making decisions on things that affect" those businesses.
She said the top obstacle to making progress on business issues is the one-party rule wielded by majority Democrats. "When you have such a skewed government, it just doesn't work because the minority voices aren't heard," Kupchick said. "It becomes a battle of wills."
Her opponent, Democrat Kevin Coyner, said, "We need to make Connecticut a destination for businesses," and said that can be accomplished by investing in infrastructure and transportation, as well as "human infrastructure.
Too many of the state's college graduates, he said, don't return to live and work. Coyner said he would support a program that would reduce the amount of student loans for those who study science, technology or math and then agree to work in the STEM field at a Connecticut company.
Selectman Cristin McCarthy Vahey, a Democrat running in the 133rd House District, said there are many success stories in town, such as the development of the Fairfield Metro train station, the Commerce Drive corridor and a downtown that has a thriving restaurant and cultural scene.
Those all came to be, Vahey said, thanks to private and public partnerships, including the involvement of local universities like Fairfield University, though she said there is room for improvement. She said she would focus on reforming state business regulations, invest in infrastructure and support funding for clean-energy initiatives.
The state needs to be thought of as a team, said Vahey's opponent, Republican Carol Way, a member of the Representative Town Meeting. And the Connecticut team has to compete against other teams, like North Carolina and South Carolina. "We can't just live in a cocoon," Way said. "Poverty has grown here in Connecticut and our middle class is moving to other locations."
She said higher state taxes approved four years ago generated income for the state, but, "What did we get for that investment?" Way asked. "We haven't done the things we need to do to be competitive."
"I'm not saying the sky is falling in our state; we have a great state," Hwang said, but state regulations and policies for business present obstacles to improving the economy. "We have one of the highest energy costs in this country. There is no rhyme or reason for it, it's because of a prohibitive bureaucracy.
"Government doesn't create jobs," Hwang said, "people do that." He said that working on a bipartisan basis in Hartford, the legislature has been able to eliminate 1,000 pages of "unnecessary policies.
Fawcett said there are some programs already in place to encourage business and job growth in Connecticut and there has been a "very focused effort, agency by agency, to reduce onerous regulations that are getting in your way."
She said 2,000 small businesses have already taken advantage of state grants from the Small Business Express program to help expand. And Connecticut, she said, is ranked in the top 10 for exporting products. "All of that is because our precision manufacturing sector is growing," Fawcett said.
Tara Cook-Littman, a Democrat running the 134th House District, said, "I really believe Connecticut is the best place to live, work and raise a family, but, of course, we can do better."
Cook-Littman said she doesn't put a lot of stock into the surveys and rankings that are "based on certain criteria, while leaving out other criteria." Transportation infrastructure needs to be addressed, she said, and the state must make sure that all students receive the necessary skills, especially in areas where the state is strong -- precision manufacturing, bio-sciences and technology.
Her opponent, Republican Laura Devlin, said as she's gone door to door, the concerns she hears are about taxes, affordable housing, jobs, the economy and transportation.
"We have so many great attributes, but policies toward business are driving companies away," Devlin said. She said the state can retain those businesses by eliminating the annual $350 small entity fee, and reducing the income tax surcharge on large companies. "These taxes send the wrong message to companies."