Legislators review state's woes

The state legislators who represent Wilton welcomed residents to a town hall-style meeting on Thursday, Oct. 17, to discuss the progress of the Connecticut legislative bodies over the last year.

Sen. Toni Boucher (R-26th District), Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143), and Rep. Tom O’Dea (R-125) were on hand to answer questions from the audience on a variety of topics, though the conversation was dominated by fiscal policy.

The state’s financial situation is “dire,” said Ms. Boucher while responding to a question on the effects of the federal shutdown on Connecticut. “Our unemployment numbers are the highest in the Northeast, if not in the nation.”

The state’s tax rate is too high, she said, adding that Gov. Dannel Malloy would “not entertain” a Republican-presented alternative budget the GOP believed would solve the deficit problem.

All three representatives said raising taxes on businesses and individuals without expanding the state’s tax base was a dangerous tactic, which would drive out high-income earners and businesses.

“We’re seeing the tax base shrink, but taxes themselves have expanded,” Ms. Lavielle said. “We want to expand the tax base, and to do that, you have to reduce the taxes.”

Responding to a small-business owner who wondered why Connecticut was doing such a lackluster job of attracting businesses, Ms. Lavielle said the problem was multifaceted.

“There are problems in so many areas,” she said. “Connecticut has some of the highest debt services in the country, and some of the highest debts per capita.”

Citing an example of an expanding market, Ms. Boucher spoke on the 3D printing technology companies that are “springing up in Charlotte, N.C.” In the past, she said, Connecticut was able to attract these businesses thanks to its dedication to innovative industries.

“Connecticut used to be the innovation state. It was a pro-business state, and it was structurally sound for business.” Now that innovative tech companies have taken root in North Carolina, Ms. Boucher said, some leaders in that state are calling for the abolition of the state income tax to attract more business.

She agreed with the sentiment of those leaders, telling the audience the state government should “look at the policies that produced the problem” and “cut the income tax in half.”

Ms. Lavielle also addressed the problem of business attractiveness, suggesting that the combination of having the nation’s top 10 business taxes and anti-business legislative decisions such as authorizing paid sick leave for part-time employees and nonprofit employees were a major cause of the problem.

The state senator also noted that one of the largest problems with Connecticut’s economic solvency was pension liabilities.

“Our pensions are funded at 42%,” Ms. Boucher said. “The standard used to be around 85% to 90%.”

The exodus of young people from the state was another point of discussion, with Ms. Boucher lamenting the lack of job growth opportunity for 20-somethings.

“Young people look out and go where there is job growth and opportunity,” something that can’t be found in this state, she said.

Citing both high taxes and lack of opportunity as the reason they leave, Ms. Lavielle said those young people are the wage-earners who are most needed for the state’s economy.

“There is an exodus of a lot of people who have the resources to fix some of the very grave infrastructure concerns in the state,” she said.

There is also a serious social problem in the state revolving around the proportion of people who are retired, compared to wage-earners, the three legislators said. Before 1991, and the implementation of a state income tax, Connecticut had one retiree to every three working persons. Now, Mr. O’Dea said, that proportion has been reversed.

Those retirees who can leave have left the state, he said. But those who cannot afford to leave have remained in the state.

“Why would you be in the worst state to retire in? The only people left will be those who cannot leave,” he said. “We want wealthy seniors with the wealth of knowledge that they have to stay in our state.”