Business Leaders Call For Fiscal Restraint In Legislative Session | Connecticut Public Radio

Business Leaders Call For Fiscal Restraint In Legislative Session

Feb 6, 2012

The General Assembly reconvenes later this week for a session that looks to be jam-packed with issues. The state’s largest business organization says lawmakers will have a difficult balancing act. WNPR’s Harriet Jones reports.

Governor Dannel Malloy has outlined a busy agenda for this upcoming session. He’s dubbed it the education session, but he’s also raising bills on affordable housing and the blue laws. Lawmakers have added promises on the minimum wage and small business programs. But hanging over all of these ambitions is the state of the state’s budget – a hoped for $80 million surplus has turned into a $145 million projected deficit at last count.

“I think that underscores some of the concerns we raised last year which was that the changes to the income tax made it much more volatile, much more dependent on high income earners.”

John Rathgeber is President and CEO of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. He wants to see lawmakers take more steps this session to deal with unfunded liabilities, and keep spending in check.

“The potential is for further erosion, both in the sense of some deficiency spending, and also possible erosion in the tax base. Now I’m hoping that doesn’t happen, but a prudent individual would be prepared for that.”

Despite this, Rathgeber applauds the Governor’s focus on education in the upcoming session, saying it’s an issue that can’t wait.

“It’s one of those kinds of things you could easily try and duck going into an election year in a three month session. But I think people understand it’s both a personal issue – we have to do better for these kids – and it’s also a long-term economic issue because the strength of Connecticut’s economy is its workforce.”

The education cost sharing formula seems certain to generate controversy. Rathegeber says we’ll only know how best to fund education in the state, if we first shine a light on what’s really working in the current system.

“Right now if you or I were to try and understand how each of the municipalities are using their education dollars, we would be totally baffled.”

Tying high school and college education more closely to the needs of the workforce is a key issue for businesses right now. Manufacturers particularly, can’t find skilled labor in the state, and Rathgeber says such firms won’t wait around forever.

“They go someplace else, where the labor force is there, or where the training programs are there in order to deliver the labor force that they need.”

Energy policy too seems certain to be at stake in the next few months as lawmakers implement some of the recommendations of the two storm panel and business owners will look to see how the need to improve reliability is balanced with the need to protect overburdened ratepayers.

For WNPR, I'm Harriet Jones.