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The Nutmeg State seems to be making headlines lately — for all the wrong reasons, said one local lawmaker.
State Sen. Toni Boucher, a Republican representing Bethel, Ridgefield, New Canaan, , Westport and Wilton in the 26th Senate District, said state leaders must address the recent spate of negative news.
Recent articles, some of which have made national news, include that Connecticut is the most heavily taxed state in the nation, that Connecticut has the , that the state received a and that Connecticut is the .
Benjamin Barnes, Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, called Moody’s downgrade wrong and irresponsible. Barnes said the rating agency downgraded the state to satisfy their internal corporate need to deflect attention from their historic lack of credibility.
That response irked Boucher.
“Agree with it or not, the last thing I would do is figuratively punch them in the eye and say, 'You are bad, stupid people,'” Boucher said. “We need to deal with the situation.”
However, Barnes said Connecticut has always paid its debt and still remains an attractive issuer of public debt. “Investors appreciate Connecticut’s strong income levels, conservative debt management practices and fiscally conservative leadership,” Barnes said in a statement last week.
While state Jonathan Steinberg, a Democrat representing Westport in the 136th House District said Barnes might have taken a softer tone; the essence of what he said is true.
“Perhaps Barnes was testy in his response last week, but there really is a lack of credibility of rating agencies,” Steinberg said.
And although Steinberg understands the frustration regarding some of the headlines; he said: “It’s not news about Connecticut having highest debt per capita. We even had that during time when pensions were funded.”
Instead the real problem facing the General Assembly is that legislators can only tinker around the edges of the budget next session. Substantial changes can’t be made until 2013.
CUT ALONG THE DOTTED LINES
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy plans emergency cuts of $79 million in spending. Some of the cuts will include not filling vacant positions and higher standards for new hires. For example, public health and safety must be at stake. The executive branch will handle $72.1 million of the cuts. The legislature must cut $800,000 and the judicial branch will handle $5.67 million of the cuts.
Lawrence Miller a Republican representing Shelton and Stratford in the 122nd House District said the cuts are necessary, but he’s still worried that taxes could be raised again.
“We need cuts, not increased taxes and you never know with this group,” Miller said. “We’re just so bad it’s not funny. It’s very frustrating, I’ll tell you.”
The cuts were announced after the administration announced the state’s surplus had shrunk to $1.4 million, or 1/134th of 1 percent of the general fund.
The CT Realtors Association is a good barometer of the economy’s health, said Boucher.
“Realtors are canary in the coal mine — they have ears on everything going on. National news is making their jobs hard,” Boucher said.
Boucher said real estate agents she’s chatted with say they can still sell Connecticut’s beauty and education — though she says it’s lagged a bit — but the higher taxes are having an impact, she said.
MAKING IT IN CONNECTICUT
President Barack Obama recently called for increased manufacturing to help boost the nation’s economy. Here in Connecticut, lawmakers are saying the same thing.
"Connecticut's unemployment rate continues to fall, which shows that our previous bipartisan jobs efforts are working, but we must do more. This session we can expand our existing job creation programs to include more small businesses, promote local Connecticut Made products, and help our unemployed veterans find good paying jobs," state Sen. Anthony Musto, a Democrat representing Bridgeport, Monroe and Trumbull in the 22nd Senate District said in a written statement.
To that end the Senate Democrats recently announced a five-point jobs plan that includes:
1. Expanding the definition of a ‘small business’ from 50 employees to 100 employees, thereby making them eligible for the Small Business Express Program and other programs created during the October special session.
2. Expanding Step-Up (Subsidized Training and Employment Program) to give businesses incentive grants to hire post-9/11 combat veterans returning from overseas.
3. Creating a ‘Connecticut Made’ marketing campaign to spur local businesses, both production and retail.
4. Preventing discrimination against the unemployed. Statutory changes would prohibit employers from discriminating against job applicants simply because they are unemployed, including preventing employment agencies and Web sites from carrying advertisements for job openings that specifically exclude the unemployed.
5. Creating a ‘Connecticut Treasures’ program. Connecticut has a wealth of educational and tourist destinations and the state DECD would be tasked with promoting places such as Mystic Seaport, Mystic Aquarium, Connecticut Science Center, and . The state Department of Education could simultaneously develop a model curriculum for all public schools that incorporates the use of these destinations.
"Job creation remains our top legislative priority this year, and especially jobs for veterans, who have a much higher unemployment rate than the general population," said state Sen. Carlo Leone a Democrat representing Stamford in the 27thSenate District and Senate Chair of the Veterans' Affairs Committee. "In Connecticut, 15.5 percent of post 9/11 veterans are unemployed. We must do better for those who fought for our freedom, and our proposed expansion of the STEP Up program will help many veterans to find work. They fought valiantly for our country, they should not have to fight for jobs back home."