Bob Stefanowski, the GOP nominee for governor, and his running mate Laura Devlin are campaigning on a plan to fix Connecticut’s economy. But first, they have to convince voters that it’s broken.
On Tuesday morning, at a Bruegger’s Bagels shop in New Haven, Stefanowski and Devlin made their case.
“The economy is in a freefall,” Stefanowski said, citing a Friday report from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, which showed Connecticut’s economy declined 4.7% in the second quarter of this year, April through June. That growth rate was second-worst nationally.
“We know why Gov. Lamont won’t admit it — because it’s an election year,” Stefanowski said. “But at a certain point, you have to put the people ahead of politics, and you have to realize that people are struggling.”
The location of the press conference, across the street from an M&T Bank location that served as a backdrop, was strategic. Stefanowski pointed to the bank’s recent round of more than 300 layoffs, as well as the roughly 1,000 job reductions at New Britain-based Stanley Black & Decker, and the decision by Raytheon Technologies, parent company of East Hartford-based Pratt & Whitney, to move its headquarters out of the state. “We’re losing our marquee companies,” he said.
Stefanowski went on to say the state has entered a recession. Two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth, “by definition,” is a recession, he said, pointing to an earlier BEA report, which showed Connecticut’s economy declined 1.4% in the first quarter of this year, January through March. (Nationally, recessions are officially defined by the National Bureau of Economic Research, which weighs several factors in making its pronouncements, including negative economic growth.)
In an email, David Lehman, commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development, said “quarterly data is highly volatile and often subject to revisions.” For example, he said, the BEA has revised its first-quarter measurement of Connecticut’s GDP growth, from a 1.4% decline to 5.5% growth.
Still, the negative second quarter report came at an inopportune time for Gov. Ned Lamont, who has touted his record on the economy, saying at a debate last week, “Connecticut is getting our Mojo back.”
Lamont admitted the second-quarter numbers “didn’t cheer me up,” but he also pointed to the first quarter revision as a reason not to take the data at face value. “We went from below average to second-best in the country. So you can cherry pick the evidence. These numbers are so volatile,” he said.
“The good news is: look where we’ve been over the last 12 months, you know, better than the average bear. And we’ll see where these numbers sort out,” Lamont said. “I think people know the state’s making progress.”
Balazs Zelity, assistant professor of economics at Wesleyan University, said that the finance sector appeared to have been part of the problem, “disproportionately dragging” on Connecticut’s economic growth in the second quarter.
“This pretty much correlates with the financial markets going down starting around March and over the spring,” he said. “And these negative effects for finance trickled down into some other related industries.”
Stefanowski and Devlin want voters to remember that those negative effects can have real-life consequences for people and businesses, particularly in a state with a high cost-of-living, high taxes and steep energy prices.
“Whether it’s been in Goshen or in Groton, we’ve been in the ‘Quiet Corner,’ in Fairfield County, all across the state, and what we hear resounding from everybody is the crush of affordability — lack of affordability — of living in the state of Connecticut,” Devlin said, seated at a table with Stefanowski at the bagel shop Tuesday.
“At a certain point, you have to wake up and listen to what your constituents are telling you,” Stefanowski said. “And you have to have a plan to fix it.” He said his plan to make the state more affordable includes refunding up to $2,000 in tax credits to each resident.
“We have a $6 billion budget surplus in Hartford. That means the governor has collected more taxes from us than he needs,” the candidate said Tuesday, on a seasonably wet, gray and blustery morning in New Haven.
Stefanowski took advantage of the weather to make a final point.
“Literally and figuratively, it’s a rainy day today,” he said. “We should be giving some of that back to residents and businesses.”
Mark Pazniokas contributed to this report.