East Hartford — Facing an electorate that gave the General Assembly a 24-percent approval rating, the House Democratic Majority unveiled a campaign framework Tuesday that focuses on job creation and fiscal responsibility and downplays labor issues, such as raising the minimum wage and making the tax structure more progressive.
The presentation at Goodwin College, a school with a business and technology center in the shadow of a growing aerospace giant, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, emphasized the legislature’s bipartisan support for successful manufacturing training programs and a popular small-business financing program.
“Real leadership is more than simply being negative or launching political attacks. It’s putting forward a positive vision for Connecticut, including innovative solutions to invest in the middle class, lowering costs for seniors, and reducing the cost of higher education and expanding job creation and training,” said House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz of Berlin.
It appeared to be a rebuttal of sorts to the state’s largest business group, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, which is making independent expenditures of more than $400,000, mainly aimed at helping Republicans unseat Democrats or capture open seats now held by Democrats.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said the agenda was too little too late.
“With 49 days left until Election Day, the House Democrats are telling Connecticut residents that we should be relieved because they now have a plan to save us from the terrible economy they created as accomplices to Governor Dan Malloy over the past six years,” Klarides said. “Their political rhetoric is one thing, and their record is something else entirely.”
Aresimowicz, who is set to become House speaker in January if the Democrats retain their majority this fall, gave Rep. Theresa W. Conroy of Seymour, one of the swing-district Democrats targeted by CBIA, a prime role explaining how the Democratic legislature, with GOP support, has expanded advanced manufacturing training to four community college campuses.
Conroy said manufacturers in the Naugatuck Valley have thanked her for a small-business financing program the legislature created on a bipartisan vote in a special session.
“We worked across the aisle, and we will continue to do that,” she said.
Like the GOP minorities in the House and Senate, who outlined their own campaign and legislative agendas last week, Aresimowicz said he saw no need for higher taxes next year, despite the projections by non-partisan analysts of a significant budget shortfall confronting the next legislature.
“Our platform, our specific platform is sitting right before you, and I don’t think anywhere included in there is new taxes,” he said.
Economic growth is the only solution to the state’s budget problems, Aresimowicz said.
“The only way — the only way — we get out from under the constant budget problems and the unpredictability is to expand that revenue base,” Aresimowicz said. “We as House Democrats are coming forward today saying this is the plan to do it, by investing in the type of jobs that we need to create here and keep our employers here.”
Materials distributed by the caucus outline some pro-labor measures, such as making sure that Connecticut workers are “paid a living wage,” but Aresimowicz said that was not code for a national goal of progressive Democrats to put the nation on a path to a $15 minimum wage.
“I think we’re going to let the economy drive a living wage,” he said. “None of our plans today are specifically talking about raising or having anything tied to the minimum wage. We believe that if we do the economic development laid out here before you and initiate the programs that actually will take care of itself.”
The agenda, titled “Investing in Connecticut’s Future,” called for an undefined cap on borrowing that is not directed at economic development, yet would make a “historic investment” in the state’s vocational schools and community colleges to better match curriculums with employer needs.
“We haven’t set the exact limits,” Aresimowicz said of the bonding cap.
Pratt’s announcement last week of its intention to hire thousands of new workers, a move driven by the expected loss of an aging workforce to retirements and a backlog of orders for jet engines from the airline industry, seemed to give the legislators a lift, despite years of slow economic growth and chronic fiscal challenges.
The company’s parent, United Technologies, is the beneficiary of a major tax break offered by the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in return for the company’s commitment to the state and its construction of a new research center.
The agenda was not without new spending, or at least forgoing tax revenue. They would exempt new college graduates from the income tax and make student loan debt tax-deductible to encourage young people to live and work in Connecticut. They also would make Social Security benefits tax free to make the state more affordable for seniors.
Aresimowicz repeatedly noted areas where Democrats have worked with Republicans, who need a net gain of a dozen seats to win a bare majority of 76 seats in the 151-member House. He said he believes it reflects what voters want.
“It’s no secret,” he said. “And I think it’s the same that each and every one of us want: Enough of the squabbling, enough of the divisive politics. Let’s get on the same page and move Connecticut forward.”