October 25, 2010 | last updated May 29, 2012 11:06 pm

Foley Says Union Power Hurting Competitiveness

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley says unions have too much influence in the state legislature, which has caused Connecticut to enact or consider policies that overreach and interfere in the workplace.

That needs to change, Foley said, if Connecticut is going to shed its reputation as unfriendly to business and eventually attract more jobs and investment to the state.

In an hour-long interview with the Hartford Business Journal, Foley outlined his political philosophy for spurring more economic activity and new jobs in the state. His plans include streamlining Connecticut's regulatory environment, making government less intrusive to businesses and encouraging growth of a "knowledge corridor" from Enfield to New Haven.

The former businessman and ambassador to Ireland is trailing in a heated race with former Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy, according to recent polls.

Foley said he is skeptical about government's role in economic development, other than as a chief marketing agent to attract companies to the region.

The best things the state can do to make Connecticut a better place to do business, he said, is cut red tape and provide a one-stop information shop for companies looking to move or grow here.

Foley said he is committed to solving the state's looming $3 billion budget deficit without raising business taxes, something that will require him to make steep spending cuts.

And he says his business background makes him the most qualified candidate to restore jobs "more quickly and better in the economy."

Here is what else Foley had to say:

Q: What's does the state need to do to attract and retain more businesses in Connecticut?

A: We need to stop the bullying by the legislature on the business community, and start having an attitude and policies in government that support employers.

We can do that by arresting the onslaught of government-driven costs that are laid on every year by the legislature. We also need to provide more certainty for employers so they are willing to take the risk to invest in human capital and plant and equipment infrastructure.

We also need to have a long-term economic development policy and a legislature that's not changing the rules of the game every year, which is what they do now.

Q: What do you mean by "bullying" from the legislature?

A: The state is overreaching and interfering in the workplace of employers in Connecticut. Part of it is because the unions are very influential in Hartford and have some of their members actually serving in the legislature. And they are imposing union ideology in the workplace, rather than through the collective bargaining process, which is the legal way to do it.

Q: What is an example of that "bullying" by the legislature?

A: One example is the push for mandatory paid sick leave. It would be extremely bad economic policy for the state. It's a job killing policy and will make Connecticut radioactive in terms of trying to bring employers here. I'm not against paid sick leave if an employer wants to provide it. But for the state legislature to mandate employers to provide it is idiotic.

Q: How do you view Connecticut's regulatory landscape?

A: Our state bureaucracy needs to be much more responsive and effective in supporting employer's needs. There are tales of woe coming out of the business community trying to deal with permitting from the Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection.

One major employer in the state told me they wanted to expand a plant and hire an additional 115 people, but it took 19 months for DEP to grant them a permit. That kind of stuff has to stop. It shouldn't be complete guesswork for whether or not an employer is going to get permission to expand. It inhibits investment and hiring, and is hurting our economy.

Q: Do you believe in using taxpayer money to invest in private companies?

A: I'm not a big fan of using government money to attract the private sector. You have to be very careful about doing that. There are too many stories where money was given away to attract companies that might have come anyway. Or there were situations where tax credits or loans weren't well enough linked to the contribution that those companies were going to make to the economy. Tax credits or loans from state government need to be crafted to be sure we get back at least what we put into it and then some.

I think we do need to promote tourism, which we aren't doing enough. I think the governor and our economic development agencies need to be packaging up what it is that Connecticut has to offer and get on the road and start talking to people to convince them to come here.

Q: Will you raise any new business taxes to balance the budget?

A: We are not going to have any new taxes to solve the current budget deficit. We have to solve this by recovering more money from the federal government, stimulating the economy and reducing spending.

Q: How would you assess economic development efforts in the state?

A: Medium. It's not well coordinated. But I don't think it's a good idea to consolidate the state's three economic development agencies. Connecticut Innovations is self financing so you wouldn't save any money consolidating it. They also have three legitimate missions if they are well executed.

What we don't have is a single point of entry for people who use those agencies. We need that information booth you wish you had when you are walking into the DMV. There ought to be a place where business people connect and get good information.

Q: What are Connecticut's future growth industries?

A: Healthcare services, highly engineered manufacturing, financial services, medical devices, alternative energy research, development and manufacturing, and pharmaceuticals. Those are industry sectors where Connecticut has a lot to offer and they are high value-added jobs.

Q: What is the future of manufacturing in Connecticut?

A: We are very good at doing some things, but we are not going to be able to support low-skilled manufacturing jobs. The only manufacturing we are going to be able to sustain long term is complex manufacturing, like making jet engines or jet turbo blades. It's going to be hard to stay competitive with other states and other parts of the world for basic manufacturing.

Q: Connecticut has the second highest electricity rates in the nation. What, if anything, should be done to change the situation?

A: We are 2.5 cents to 3 cents per kilowatt hour above our neighbors. We should endeavor to narrow that gap. But I think the prospect of lowering energy costs in Connecticut much beyond that is unrealistic. So we need to make sure we are attracting industries here where energy is a relatively low cost factor in the overall cost of their product. And then we need to help them figure out ways to use energy more efficiently. About 40 percent of energy used in this part of the country is in residential and commercial buildings. If we can make those more efficient that should relieve some of the pressure.

Q: Where do you stand on the controversial energy bill Democratic lawmakers tried to push through last legislative session?

A: There were a couple of things in that bill that I did not think were good policy so I wouldn't have signed it. One of the things we need to do in Connecticut is get more domestic generation. We are importing so much of our power and that's expensive. I think we should look at nuclear power. I think the safety of nuclear power has been largely resolved. The only question that remains is disposing of nuclear waste and the amount of time it takes to build a nuclear power facility. But it's something we should look at.

Q: What is your view of Sustinet and its future role in setting health care policy for Connecticut?

A: Sustinet is kind of an organization without a purpose because the federal health care bill filled the void that Sustinet intended to fill. I think the organization has been hijacked by a group of people who are advocates for a public option. When they didn't get it federally, they still want it in the state and I'm totally against a public option. So, unless Sustinet can find some worthwhile role for itself, other than moving in the direction of a public option, I won't support it.

Q: Should Connecticut open up the state insurance pool to municipalities, nonprofits and small businesses?

A: Yes, as long as it's not the head of a camel in a tent for a public option.

Q: You mentioned the possibility of allowing certain businesses to offer mandate-free health plans. Is that a possibility?

A: Yes, but that would really only be for individuals and businesses who can't afford the mandated plan. At least it would give them some type of coverage, rather than no insurance at all.

Q: What kind of coverage would a mandate-free plan provide?

A: You'd hand that [decision] over to the insurance commissioner and try to figure out through public discourse what is the best compromise between cost and coverage.

Q: Would you roll back any health insurance mandates currently on the books?

A: I would discourage additional mandates. We already have made health insurance expensive for employers. But I'm not suggesting we should repeal any of the mandates.

Q: You mentioned you would like to see increased Medicaid reimbursements to doctors, hospitals and nursing homes. Where would you get the money to do that, considering the state's looming budget deficit?

A: I'm in favor of moving to more community-based care and taking some of that savings to increase reimbursement rates to nursing homes. As you move people from nursing home care to community-based care you save up to $600 million. We should take that money to improve reimbursement rates for nursing homes.

Q: Would you support investing state dollars for a new arena in Hartford, with the hopes of attracting a new NHL franchise?

A: No. I think if there is a large enough market to support a professional sports team, the private sector ought to be able to finance it. Usually when cities and towns have paid for stadiums to support pro teams it has been a bad experience.

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