All six candidates for governor agreed today that Connecticut’s government has failed miserably to encourage job creation over the past two decades.
If their business audience in Hartford closed its eyes, picking out the two Democrats from the three Republicans and one Independent might have been a challenge.
Costs must be lowered, regulatory processes streamlined and companies recruited and nurtured. How to get there?
Differences were in soft focus on stage at the Connecticut Convention Center, where CNBC’s Ron Insana led a 60-minute discussion about jobs and the economy.
The lineup at the annual Connecticut Business Expo was Democrats Ned Lamont and Dan Malloy, Republicans Michael Fedele, Tom Foley and Oz Griebel and a Republican-turned-Independent, Tom Marsh.
On a day when a Quinnipiac poll showed a static race for governor, the candidates engaged in a seminar, grazing over broad issues. A debate was neither promised, nor delivered.
“The goals, everybody agrees,” Lamont said after the forum. “We’re all singing off the same hymnal.”
All six promised to be attentive to business. Foley implicitly criticized the Republican incumbent, M. Jodi Rell, promising he would woo employers with the phone calls and out-of-state trips now being neglected.
“So far, without a plan, without a governor who’s willing to travel out of state or even make phone calls to solicit people to come here, it’s really hard to sell Connecticut,” Foley said.
When Malloy said he would not deserve re-election if he failed to deliver jobs, Insana got the loudest reaction with his retort: “I don’t think you’d get anyone to disagree with that.”
Fedele said every piece of legislation that comes before the General Assembly should be subjected to a business analysis to measure its impact on jobs and the business climate.
He promised to block any legislation with an adverse business impact.
“I would use my veto pen, my little red veto pen that I walk around with,” Fedele said, pulling a pen from his suit coat.
Griebel, the president and chief executive officer of the MetroHartford Alliance, said the two biggest impediments to job creation are an anti-business attitude and the cost of doing business.
The next governor needs to be a recruiter, he said.
“I think that is a 6 or 7 day a week job,” Griebel said.
Griebel pledged to bring state employees to the bargaining table to lower labor costs.
Marsh, a small business owner and the first selectmen of Chester, said, “I’m living every day with the dysfunction we’re talking about up here.”
Malloy said the state can no longer afford to pay electric rates that he says are 76 percent above the national average.
“We need a governor who is going to talk about that issue, wrestle with that issue,” Malloy said.
Malloy said that the Department of Environmental Protection is far too slow in processing permit applications.
“They have forgotten that time is money, and they need to be reminded of that,” he said.
When Insana mentioned a proposal to require employers to provide paid sick days for employees as hostile to business, Malloy passed on an opportunity engage the moderator over the proposal, which he supports.
Lamont said he would triple funding for Connecticut Innovations, the state agency that promotes and assists business development. Then he sounded a bit like spending hawk.
“We do a have a spending problem, let’s face it,” he said. “Our population has been relatively flat for the last 20 years, and our spending has more than doubled.”
“And what do you do about that? No offense to any of us up here, you know, we sort of blow a little blue smoke, consolidate here and streamline,” Lamont said. “It’s going to take real fundamental reforms.”
He did not enumerate fundamental reforms. He offered efficiencies, such as group purchasing for pharmaceuticals and support for the elderly that might keep them out of nursing homes.
“What’s happened here in Connecticut is really inexcusable,” said Foley, one of several candidates to note that the state has been dead last in job creation over 20 years. “You’d think Connecticut was radioactive.”
Foley left mid-way through the forum to keep another commitment.