NAUGATUCK — Local legislators touched on an array of topics during the Naugatuck Chamber of Commerce’s annual Legislative Breakfast last week. However throughout the morning the discussion kept returning to the state’s financial situation and how businesses are treated in Connecticut.
“There’s so much that needs to get done,” state Rep. Rosa Rebimbas (R-70) said. “But again, it’s how we get the confidence back into our state and into the budget and that we have a fiscal responsible home in Hartford.”
Rebimbas was joined by fellow state representatives Theresa Conroy (D-105) and David Labriola (R-131) along with state Sen. Joan Hartley (D-15) at the breakfast last Friday at Jesse Camille’s Restaurant. State Sen. Joseph Crisco (D-17) couldn’t make it.
Hartley, who served 16 years as a state representative before being elected to the state Senate in 2000, told the audience it’s going to be really difficult to craft a state budget this year.
Aside from the struggles in the economy, Hartley pointed out a two-year wage freeze for state employees agreed to in return for no layoffs is coming to an end and wage increases are part of the upcoming budget. She said the state has no latitude because of the previous agreement.
“This (budget), and I’ve seen a lot of budgets, is probably the most difficult,” Hartley said.
When questioned what they felt the common theme is they’re hearing from the business community, the legislators painted a dreary picture.
“The most common theme I here is, ‘Leave us alone or I’m leaving,’” Labriola said.
As a member of the minority party in the legislature, Labriola said Republicans have been playing defense against anti-business proposals such as raising the state’s minimum wage.
“These are proposal that just make it harder to do business and so we play defense,” he said. “Our job is to make sure those bills don’t pass.”
Labriola said there’s no reason young people should be leaving Connecticut, the state is considered among the worse to retire in or that the state is the highest tax state in the nation. He said it all has to do with the policies in Hartford.
Labriola said he disagrees with Gov. Dannel Malloy’s approach of “picking winners and losers” with the First Five and Next Five programs, which give incentives for businesses to move to or expand in Connecticut. He said the state needs to help the business community across the board by not burdening businesses with more regulations and higher taxes.
For Hartley, the theme she’s hearing from the business community is three-fold.
“I’d have to say the common theme is, ‘Don’t burden us anymore. Help us with regulations. Help us have an educated workforce,’” Hartley said.
As far as the last one is concerned, Hartley said the Naugatuck Valley is performing well.
The Valley was one of three areas in the state to receive funding to establish an Advanced Manufacturing Center. The local center was established at Naugatuck Valley Community College in Waterbury, Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport and Quinebaug Community College in Danielson are the other sites.
Hartley said the program at Naugatuck Valley Community College is the only one of the three meeting every benchmark.
“We are truly working to build a pipeline of skilled workers,” Hartley said.
Manufacturing has become a main issue for Conroy, who is in her second non-consecutive term and currently serves on the General Assembly’s manufacturing caucus.
“Years ago when I went to high school, we all wanted to go to college. Our parents wanted us to college and we got away from manufacturing and you see what’s happening in the state now,” she said.
Conroy added that regulations need to be streamlined in Hartford to help businesses.
“It’s pretty archaic some of the things that we’re still doing,” Conroy said.
As far as making the state a better place for people to retire in, Conroy said the issue, “is bigger than all of us in this room,” and will have to be chipped away at along with all the other issues facing the state.
Conroy said taxes are a necessary evil to pay for services, but that the state needs to be more competitive to attract people and must do more as far as economic development is concerned and keep businesses.
Conroy said she’s going to keep hammering away to get the state to invest in the Waterbury railroad line. Along the railroad line, she said, is prime land for development.
Rebimbas urged everyone in attendance to call the delegation any time there is a specific proposal they want to see addressed. By letting legislators know in advance, she said, the delegation can work together proactively in a bipartisan fashion on the matter rather than being reactive.
“We’re more productive and beneficial when we’re proactive opposed to reactive,” Rebimbas said.