Webster Bank's Jim Smith: Biz community must speak with 'united voice'

BY Greg Bordonaro

Jim Smith
Ahead of the first meeting of a newly formed commission on fiscal stability and economic growth, the group's co-chair – outgoing Webster Bank CEO and Chairman Jim Smith – talked Friday morning about the need for the business community to speak with a united voice in order to influence and shape state policy.

"We have to change the way we raise and spend taxpayer dollars," Smith told a crowd of regional business leaders who attended MetroHartford Alliance's monthly Rising Star breakfast at the Hartford Marriott.

Smith said he hopes to play a leading role in influencing policy decisions as co-chair of the commission on fiscal stability and economic growth, which was created as part of the bipartisan state budget adopted in October. The group will be responsible for developing and recommending policies that aim to promote state government fiscal stability and economic growth and competitiveness within the state.

Smith said it will be important to support policies that take into account the "long view," particularly when it comes to dealing with the state's unfunded retiree pension and healthcare benefits, which have been, and will continue to be, a major driver of the state's fiscal woes.

He also shared a statistic that provided a stark reminder of the state's poor economic performance in recent years. He said the state's gross state product, or total economic output, is currently 8 percent below what it was 10 years ago.

The newly formed commission will holds its first meeting today at 1 p.m. at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

The 14-member panel will be required to assess and make recommendations on issues regarding state revenues, tax structures, spending, debt, and administrative and organizational actions to achieve balanced and timely budgets that help revitalize the state's major cities and enhance the state's economic competitiveness.

A report of findings and recommendations is due March 1, 2018, and lawmakers must draft legislation containing those recommendations.

Malloy speaks

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy also spoke at the MetroHartford Alliance event Friday morning. Just as he reached the podium, the lights at the Marriott hotel ballroom went out, an ominous sign that portended some of the serious warnings the Democratic governor had about the state's future.

He continued his clarion call for the need to invest more in the state's ailing transportation system, which he said is a key issue holding back Connecticut's economy.

Earlier this week, Malloy held a press conference in which he warned that a major transportation funding shortage threatens to postpone billions of dollars in infrastructure investment in the coming years.

Malloy said the state's lack of transportation investment is preventing some New Yorkers from moving to Fairfield County, which is a lower-cost option for individuals working in New York City. He said he'd like the new commission on fiscal stability to come up with ways to raise transportation funds.

He also talked about the need to fully fund the state's retiree pension and healthcare benefits, which he has taken steps to do since becoming governor.

His address wasn't all negative. In fact, he said Connecticut residents are too pessimistic about the state and that there are many things to be proud of. He then rattled off some accomplishments that took place under his watch including: Being the first state to end chronic homelessness for veterans; significantly expanding affordable housing; improving the high school graduation rate; and lowering the rate of violent crime, among other things.

Volunteer members

Other volunteer members of the commission on fiscal stability and economic growth include:

  • Co-chair Bob Patricelli, former chair and CEO, Women's Health USA
  • Vice chair Pat Widlitz, former state representative and co-chair of the legislature's Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee
  • Bruce Alexander, Yale University's vice president of state affairs and campus development
  • Cindi Bigelow, CEO of Bigelow Tea
  • Greg Butler, Eversource Energy executive vice president and general counsel
  • Roxanne Coady, owner of R. J. Julia Booksellers
  • David Jimenez, principal of Jackson Lewis P.C.
  • Jim Loree, Stanley Black & Decker CEO
  • Paul Mounds, Jr., vice president for communications and policy at the Connecticut Health Foundation
  • Christopher Swift, The Hartford CEO.

Three additional legislative appointments are still to be announced.

The group plans to hold public hearings throughout the state to solicit input and discuss research. A second meeting is being planned for Jan. 8 in New Haven.