The legislative session that got underway Thursday is expected to focus on jobs and the economy. And the governor's State of the State address contained a mixed bag of economic initiatives.
Governor Dannel Malloy began his speech with an anecdote about an East Hartford farmer struggling but succeeding in coming back from last winter's heavy snows. He returned throughout the speech to the theme of economic recovery, highlighting particularly what the state can do for small business. "After years of complacency," he said, "Connecticut is playing an aggressive role partnering with employers to create jobs and grow our economy."
Most of the initiatives he mentioned in the speech have already been rolled out in recent weeks: more funding for the popular Small Business Express loan program, and for StepUp -- the initiative that helps business take on and train previously unemployed workers -- and a new Advanced Manufacturing Fund. He also touted the push that's underway to streamline red tape. "In the coming weeks," he said, "I will announce the results of this effort, which will do away with nearly 1,000 pages of unnecessary state regulations."
The regulation project is something that's enthusiastically welcomed by business groups in the state. The Connecticut Business and Industry Association also gave the governor high marks for his plan to use part of the surplus to pay down debt and increase the rainy day fund. "That's something that is in the state's best interests," said CBIA's Bonnie Stewart. "One of the things that we hear from the private sector on a regular basis is concerns about investing in the state, when they don't think that the state's fiscal house is in order. The biggest issue they point to all the time is the unfunded liabilities the state has. Therefore putting the money towards the pension liabilities, I think, is a great move by the governor."
But it wasn't all applause. Andrew Markowski of the National Federation of Independent Business in Connecticut said that while loans and grants for small business are a temporary fix, the overall economic development strategy is wanting. "The small business owners I speak to say Connecticut needs long term structural tax reform, paring back of state government and overall certainty," said Markowski. "[They want] certainty that state government isn't going to change the rules on them along the way."
Malloy's speech also reiterated his call for an accelerated hike in the minimum wage, something that both groups say, once again, changes the rules in the middle of the game.