Local politicians weigh in on 'Jobs Bill'

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Region - posted Tue., Nov. 29, 2011
- Contributed Photo

A two-year, $626 million bipartisan program passed by the Connecticut legislature at the end of October was designed to pull the state out of a stagnating employment climate by funding initiatives for job training, business growth and infrastructure repair. The bill, officially titled “H.B. No. 6801” or “An Act Promoting Economic Growth and Job Creation in the State,” was approved by the state Senate by a vote of 34-1, with state Sen. Kevin Witkos (R – 8th District) the only member voting against it. In the state House, the lone dissenter was state Rep. Christopher Coutu (R – 47th District), who is currently campaigning for U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney’s second district seat in the U.S. Congress.

“My opposition was based on the simple philosophy that we should not raise taxes on each and every Connecticut family by $800 a year to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in grants to a few private companies,” said Coutu. “The bill includes tax credits, subsidies and grants programs for private companies… The bottom line is that more government spending does not create jobs; it just creates more government, more spending and more debt.”

Coutu claims that the bill, utilizing primarily borrowed money, will cost Connecticut taxpayers approximately $1.5 billion by the time it is paid off. He used the term “corporate welfare” to describe some of the bill’s initiatives. In fact, H.B. 6801 includes provisions for a second round of “First Five” funding. Beneficiaries of the first round of First Five included ESPN ($25 million), Cigna (between $47 and $71 million) and TicketNetwork ($8 million). In exchange for state money, the companies have pledged to create a minimum of 200 jobs over the next five years.

“In the name of job creation,” said Coutu, “companies that generate jobs, which they are supposed to do in order to stay in business, get hundreds of millions of hard-earned taxpayers’ dollars. I do not oppose measures to create a pro-business environment, but increasing taxes on every citizen and business in the state to hand over to corporations is not the answer.”

“Yes, there are pieces of [the bill] that could be considered corporate welfare,” said state Rep. Pamela Sawyer (R- 55th District), who voted in favor of the bill. “But those were not the Republican parts of it.” Though the bill has been touted as a bipartisan solution, “This proposal was going to happen whether the Republicans were going to be invested or not,” said Sawyer. She pointed to some aspects of the legislation that she felt would be beneficial to her local constituents, using Hebron and the long-stalled Norton Road project as an example.

“This bill puts the Commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, or a designee, on the State Traffic Commission,” said Sawyer.

Language in the bill requires a DECD designee to sit on the State Traffic Commission, “when the commission discusses and votes on any matter relating to an economic development project.”

The hope is that this will help to streamline the process and eliminate delays. “It has been a great problem in Hebron,” said Sawyer. She saw the change as especially important as the region goes forward on development of the Route 6 corridor, running through Bolton, Columbia and Coventry. “This, I think, will be a huge help,” she said.

The bill also allocates funding to pay for an analysis of different state agencies, including the State Traffic Commission, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and the Department of Administrative Services, said Sawyer. The hope is that the study will identify ways to streamline permitting processes to make the creation and expansion of private business less cumbersome.

One of the positive aspects of the bill, for Sawyer, is a change to the Business Entity Tax. “That’s one of the things that we’ve been trying to do for five years,” she said. The $250 tax was formerly required from every Connecticut business, regardless of its size, every year. The bill reduces the burden to every other year. “So essentially you’re cutting it in half,” said Sawyer. “It wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but I’m thrilled.” Sawyer said she would have preferred to see the tax eliminated for the first several years, until a business had an opportunity to become established, or eliminated altogether.

State Sen. Edith Prague (D – 19th District) shared that sentiment. “Half is better than nothing,” she said, “though I would have liked to see the tax eliminated altogether.” Asked to address Coutu’s “corporate welfare” claims, Prague said, “The biggest problem we have is the fact that people don’t have jobs in this state. We have to do everything we can to create jobs. If allowing some of the big corporations to participate in some of these initiatives is required, then that’s what we have to do.”

Prague played up the benefits to small businesses under the bill. “It’s a very good bill for small businesses,” she said. “It gives them lots of new incentives to grow and develop. It’s a wonderful piece of legislation for small businesses in Connecticut that so desperately need help.”

Much of the language pertaining to Connecticut small businesses appears early in the lengthy bill, which can be accessed by going to the Connecticut General Assembly website at www.cga.ct.gov. Set the drop-down menus at the top of the page to “Bill” and “2011,” then enter “6801” in the “Number” box.

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