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    Wednesday, December 07, 2022

    As businesses struggle to fill openings, Lamont and Stefanowski share economic plans

    Hartford ― Gov. Ned Lamont and Republican challenger Bob Stefanowski on Friday painted contrasting pictures of the state economy and shared different views on using the state’s rainy day fund, as they addressed findings from a Connecticut Business and Industry Association survey ― including that 85% of employers reported difficulty finding or retaining employees.

    CBIA held its annual Connecticut Economy conference, and President and CEO Chris DiPentima separately spoke onstage with each of the gubernatorial candidates.

    Stefanowski noted that CNBC ranked Connecticut 39th on its Top States for Business list this year ― 15 spots worse than 2021 ― and gave the economy an F grade.

    He questioned the room, “If you had a CEO who was in for four years and provided those kinds of results, would you give them another four years? Of course not.” He said the state budget has increased by $4 billion since Lamont took office, and he’s not seeing any benefit from that.

    Lamont defended the state budget increase by saying it went up less than the rate of inflation and pushed back against the idea there has been no improvement, citing improvements in DMV wait times, access to daycare, and availability of capital for small businesses.

    “We can get into a bidding war about who cuts more taxes where or who increases spending more, but I have to be the guy that makes the choices,” Lamont said, citing his responsibility to continue funding pension liabilities.

    The governor said “everybody wants to get their hands in the rainy day fund” but he’s “saving that for if there’s this recession that seems to be pending.” Stefanowski, on the other hand, commented that “it’s a rainy day right now.”

    The $2 billion tax relief plan Stefanowski unveiled Tuesday could bring the state’s reserves to about $2 billion, or 9% of annual operating costs, The Connecticut Mirror reported. Lamont wants to keep the figure at 15%, as recommended by the state comptroller’s office for decades.

    Stefanowski found at least one area of agreement with Lamont: He praised David Lehman, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, saying he hears “very good things about David himself ― business guy, pragmatic.”

    Stefanowski said he would remove the sales and use tax on training employees, which CBIA is advocating, and Lamont commented on removing this tax, “It makes pretty good sense to me. I’ve got to look at it.” Lamont said he also wants to look at the corporate income tax, as “that’s been a little high.”

    Stefanowski said on day one, he would stop collecting 200 fees that collectively generate less than 0.25% of the state’s revenue, commenting, “Let the Democrats try to sue me for not collecting the hypnotist registration fee.” (It’s $100 annually.)

    He also said he would restore the pass-through entity tax to at least 93% and get rid of the 1% tax on prepared foods. DiPentima questioned how Stefanowski would get his plan done in a Democrat-controlled House and Senate.

    “I’m never going to figure out how that building works, and I’m not sure I want to,” the candidate said of the Capitol. But he pointed to running mate Laura Devlin’s connections through her eight years in the state House of Representatives.

    CBIA releases survey results

    CBIA released its 20th annual Survey of Connecticut Businesses, which included responses from more than 3,700 top executives in the state from July 6 to Aug. 8. Eighty percent of the firms surveyed have fewer than 50 employees.

    DiPentima said in the report, “Solving the labor shortage crisis ― our economy’s greatest threat, as this reports highlights ― requires long-term, sustainable solutions that will make Connecticut more affordable for residents and employers and unlock opportunities for all.”

    The report noted that between February 2020 and August 2022, the number of people working or looking for work shrunk by 45,100 people.

    Asked where the respondents could make their greatest investment, the largest share of them ― 29% ― said employee retainment efforts, followed by property/facilities and new technology.

    The report also found that 65% of respondents expect a profitable 2022, 56% raised prices due to inflation, 34% expect their workforce to grow in the next six months, and 26% see the state’s economy growing in the next year.

    Earlier this month, CBIA released its 12-point policy platform, which includes incentivizing developers to build housing on former brownfield sites, increasing the pass-through entity tax credit, and determining the feasibility of public universities using visas to promote workforce development.

    e.moser@theday.com

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