As we start to hear the term “flatten the curve” yet again, it’s becoming apparent that this insidious virus is not going away anytime soon. What’s also becoming apparent is that the mental and economic detriments from COVID-19 are as consequential as the impact on people’s health.
Tragically, suicide rates, particularly among teens, and incidents of domestic violence have risen significantly since COVID-19 hit. Restaurants, small businesses and many families across our state are struggling to make ends meet. The lines at food pantries grow longer and longer and the need greater every week.
Connecticut’s death rate from coronavirus is the third highest in the nation – with over 70% of those deaths coming from the elderly in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Last Thursday, our state recorded its highest single daily infection rate since the pandemic started (7.13%) – Gov. Ned Lamont blaming it simply on the “Thanksgiving Effect.” And the impact to the mental development of kids missing daily socialization in the classroom will take years to determine.
Governor Lamont’s core policy to combat the spread of COVID-19 has been to shut down Connecticut’s economy at all costs – and it’s clearly not working. Whether it’s Phase 3, Phase 1 or Phase 2A, forming a regional COVID-19 pact with Governors Cuomo and Raimondo, or paying out-of-state consultants $2 million to reopen Connecticut, none of it has worked.
We need a more holistic approach — one that takes into consideration the mental and economic health of Connecticut residents as well as their physical health.
It is with this backdrop that I was pleased to see incoming Minority Leader of the House Vin Candelora (R-North Branford) and his colleagues offer up several tangible ways that Lamont could improve the state’s dire situation – and to use his executive authority to do it immediately. Candelora suggested cancelling a .5% new payroll tax scheduled to go into effect in January, letting businesses delay payment of their personal property taxes until April and directing some of the left-over federal funds to replenish the state’s unemployment trust fund.
These are meaningful steps that could be enacted immediately to take pressure off local restaurants, shops and small businesses across the state. Imagine the local business owner going into the holidays knowing that, as bad as it is now, it’s going to get worse in January when a new tax is imposed on workers, and another massive property tax bill comes due. Imagine the restaurant owner, the cooks, the staff and their suppliers, worrying about how they will keep the doors open through the winter.
While one could argue the pros and cons of paying down debt that will ultimately fall on the backs of small business owners, shouldn’t we at least consider it? Twelve other states have done this exact thing – can’t we debate an opposing view? Apparently, not in the Lamont administration. Without any thought whatsoever, Governor Lamont’s response to Connecticut’s minority leader of the House was that his idea was “pretty dumb.”
Connecticut Democrats frequently criticize Republicans for not offering up alternatives. Governor Lamont has boasted about his “open door policy.” With a fresh set of representatives headed into a new legislative session next year, it’s a great opportunity to work collaboratively to get Connecticut out of this crisis. Even Joe Biden recognizes that some level of bipartisanship will be needed to get people back to work.
COVID-19 did not shut down Connecticut’s economy, Governor Lamont did. Residents across the state are starting to realize that it hasn’t worked. It’s time for the governor to start listening to people who may hold different views than his or the Hartford insiders he surrounds himself with.
This dialogue has to include Republicans who were voted into office by the citizens of Connecticut. Why should the residents of North Branford, who support Rep. Candelora because they agree with his opinions and policy, have any less say than residents of other towns? It’s unfair and unconstitutional to shut them out.
The coronavirus is an unprecedented tragedy. No one really knows what will happen next. It’s time for Governor Lamont to admit this and start listening to people on the other side of the aisle who may actually have some good ideas. We’re in this crisis together, and we all should have a say in how we get out of it.
The upcoming legislative session gives the governor the chance for a fresh start. Governor Lamont should give up his executive authority now and allow legislators back into to the building for some real debate, rather than slamming the door on the incoming leader of House Republicans before he even crosses the threshold.
Bob Stefanowski was the 2018 Republican candidate for Governor of Connecticut.