Lamont and Stefanowski diverge on outlook for CT companies

Governor Ned Lamont and gubernatorial challenger Bob Stefanowski spoke to the Connecticut Business and Industry Association on Friday.

The Democratic and Republican candidates, both businessmen, shared a common understanding of many of the challenges facing the business world. But their perspectives diverged.

Stefanowski began by citing CNBC’s “Top States for Business” ranking, in which Connecticut ranked 39th and was rated “F” for affordability.

“I think it’s horrible what’s happened to small and medium businesses in Connecticut,” Stefanowski said. “If you had a CEO who had the performance of the last four years in Connecticut, would you hire him for your company?”

Lamont, on the other hand, was typically optimistic.

“We’ve had four balanced budgets in a row, and I think that says a lot about where this state is going,” Lamont said. He pointed out that Connecticut has a budget surplus this year and a healthy rainy day fund.

But Lamont went on to say that with the threat of a recession not too far away, he wants to remain cautious about spending. “I try to give you stability,” he says.

The contestants were interviewed on stage at the Downtown Marriott in Hartford, in front of a room of nearly 300 business attendees. In separate question and answer segments, AABC President Chris DiPentima asked Stefanowski and Lamont to respond to the political project of the associationnicknamed “Transform CT”.

Chris DiPentima, president of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, asks GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski about his plan for the economy. Courtesy of Connecticut Business and Industry Association

CBIA plan asks lawmakers to ‘commit’ to making Connecticut more affordable by encouraging the development of ‘workforce housing’, helping businesses provide student loan assistance to their employees and reducing the cost of health insurance. The plan provides several tax breaks for businesses, including those that would support research and development and worker training programs. The CBIA also introduced changes to the professional licensing and immigrant visa programs aimed at attracting more skilled workers to the state.

According a survey of CBIA members, 85% of employers struggle to find and retain employees. Nearly 90% expect the cost of running a business in Connecticut to get worse. Still, 65% said they expect 2022 to be a profitable year.

Candidates agreed that workforce development, such as technical training, skills certifications and apprenticeships, was a top priority.

“These kids coming out of trade school have three, four job offers — electricians, people with construction skills,” Stefanowski said. “Why don’t we invest more in our trade schools? They are all at full capacity. Why don’t we open five more? »

Lamont highlighted the work of the Governor’s Workforce Council and touted the amount of funding these initiatives will receive — much of which comes from federal COVID relief legislation. “We have the largest workforce development investment in state history, well over $100 million planned this year and next year,” he said.

Lamont added that additional funding for child care, which he signed into law this year, will support more parents returning to the workforce.

The candidates agreed that to attract the workforce and keep those people, Connecticut needs to build more housing.

“Right next to labor is housing,” Lamont said. He added that “things are looking up”, with the construction of multi-family dwellings on the rise.

In many Connecticut towns, residents are resisting new construction, which has contributed to the lack of affordable homes and apartments statewide. Stefanowski said he wants to repeal the state’s current affordable housing legislation and take a more individualized approach with each community.

“We have to work with cities, we have to hold them accountable, but it’s about working together,” Stefanowski said. “We’re going to use the carrot, not the stick.”

For the business community, reducing their tax burden is always a top priority, and DiPentima asked both candidates to comment on the association’s proposed tax reforms.

Stefanowski said he wants to extend the fuel tax exemption, reduce sales taxes, expand property tax relief and simplify the state’s tax code. He said there are hundreds of small taxes and fees the state collects that don’t add much to the bottom line but add complications for businesses.

“On day one, I’m going to stop collecting the last 200,” he said.

Lamont said he supports some of the business tax credits proposed by the CBIA. “To me, that’s pretty logical, I’d have to think about it,” he said when asked about the elimination of sales tax on employer-paid training.

Broadly speaking, Stefanowski’s economic plan would cut taxes in an effort to stimulate economic activity.

“We need to stimulate this economy,” he said. “I don’t care who takes credit for it, but we have a $6 billion surplus. Why don’t you use some of that money to stimulate the economy?

Lamont defended his “conservative” stance on protecting those excess dollars. “I have to be the guy to make choices,” he said. “And if I get income here or increase expenses there, what don’t I do? I do not reimburse our state pension commitments.