Businesses encouraged to keep pressure on legislators
By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Regional - posted Thu., Mar. 10, 2011
Small business owners helped form a record turnout at the Connecticut Business and Industry Association's Connecticut Business Day at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford on March 9.
The goal of the event is to encourage more businesses and business organizations to let legislators know what their needs are, especially at a time when Connecticut ranks poorly, compared with other states, in job growth and business taxes.
Part of the draw may have been the appearance of Gov. Dannel Malloy, who used the opportunity to speak about his proposed budget and sympathize with business owners.
“Just as this economy has thrown you some wicked curveballs,” Malloy said, “it has thrown them to government, as well. For 22 years, our state had failed to grow jobs. Our spending has gotten out of control. Our investments have not been made.”
Malloy pointed to investments in transportation that, if made in the past, would be reaping benefits now. He also said that too much income for municipalities comes from property taxes.
“Time and time again, we just continue to shift those obligations to those communities,” he said, “as if we would expect them to sprout strong again.”
Malloy said his budget was formed in an effort to “confront what is wrong with Connecticut,” and will make investments in housing, and overhaul how the state government conducts itself, including the first-time adoption of generally-accepted accounting principals.
“It's a different road,” Malloy said, “but it's an honest road. A road that will allow us to be who we are and what we are.”
The governor also answered questions from the crowd.
South Windsor Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Shari Fiveash asked about the tax credits for that town’s film studio project.
Malloy said he has asked for proposals for credits that support jobs and infrastructure in Connecticut. “If we can get the language,” he said, “and Connecticut taxpayers' dollars are used to support that industry here, that's okay. But, you know and I know that that discussion has not heretofore taken place. We will not use state dollars to support people who run back to New York City with their equipment. It makes no sense.”
Much discussion centered on creating a “state business concierge” to coordinate businesses’ inquiries in a single resource for answers and help with problems.
“Others states that have ‘one-stop shopping,’ one phone number, one place to go, are eating our lunch,” said former state business advocate Rob Simmons.
In a breakout workshop on small businesses, legislators heard from several business owners, and the discussion became heated at times.
Milford's Kim Kasparian, owner of Success Genie, Inc., told the panel - which included state Sen. Gary Lebeau (D-East Hartford) and state Rep. Tim Ackert (R-Coventry) - that there is a “disconnect between business owners and legislature.”
"Right now the communication is about the ‘legislation-ese’ and the debate,” Kasparian said. “We need to know what we need to do to support you, not to talk about the issues – we know about the issues, that's why we're here. We don't need you to explain it to us. We’re here to find out why is it that you are not able to do the job you were elected to do.”
Ackert said that if Kasparian's legislator is not doing what she is asking them to do, you can replace them. Ackert explained how he, as a small business owner himself, got into politics for the same reason – to attempt to change things for the better for small businesses.
“You need to talk to your legislator,” Ackert said. “You need to get in their face.”
Glastonbury Chamber of Commerce President Mary Ellen Dombrowski agreed that the highlight of the day for business owners was hearing that they need to get involved with the legislators.
“We try to drive that home,” Dombrowski said. “They're begging for support of small businesses.”
Dombrowski added that it's more difficult for small business owners to organize, since they are usually very busy running their business. “Businesspeople are so busy,” she said.
Peter Billard, a small business owner from Glastonbury, said the most poignant moment of the day came from Bonnie Stewart, CBIA's vice president of government affairs, who related as story from a legislator who said a committee had been working feverishly on a bill, after having received only five letters.
She said the legislator told her that they never hear from businesses. After two letters on a bill, they look into it and see what it does. After three of four letters, they show up, testify, and see if they can help.
“If I get five letters,” Stewart said, relating the legislator’s comments, “I'm going to make something happen.”
“It only takes five,” Billard said, “to influence legislation.”
Candice Corcione, executive director of the Tolland County Chamber of Commerce, which is the head of the East of the River Chambers of Commerce Association, said she was glad to see the large turnout.
“I think that speaks volumes for how concerned people are,” she said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how it all plays out.”
Corcione said she agrees that businesses need to keep the pressure on legislators, and said the chambers are seeking ways to get more of their message to Hartford.
“We do take it seriously,” she said, adding that ERCCA already has legislative analysts in place, and a process that gives opinions to legislators, but it is also looking to get members more involved in this legislative session.
“We’re usually the voice of our members,” she said, “but we’re going to try twice as hard to get our members’ voices out there, as well.”