November 7, 2018

Biz lobbies vow cooperation with Gov.-elect Lamont during 'honeymoon' phase

File Photo
File Photo
CBIA CEO Joe Brennan.

In a narrow victory called at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Ned Lamont was named Connecticut's next governor.

Now the hard work begins for the 64-year-old Democrat Greenwich businessman, who won with about 48 percent of the vote over Republican Bob Stefanowski.

Lamont will be faced with a $4 billion-plus budget deficit projected in the next two fiscal years, as well as a business community clamoring for less taxes and state regulations and a growing economy.

During his campaign, Lamont, who unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 2006 and governor in 2010, distanced himself from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on a number of issues, including his pledge to deemphasize incentives under the First Five Plus program, which gives multimillion-dollar incentives to larger companies like Infosys and Ideanomics to lure them to greater Hartford.

Leaders from some of Connecticut's most prominent business lobbies on Wednesday said they were excited to work with Lamont's administration, agreeing he offers a stark contrast to Malloy because he is equipped with more than three decades of experience building and running a telecom business.

They expect the new governor, and his administration, which includes Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, to open new lines of communication during at least a "honeymoon phase" to address Connecticut's modest post-recession growth by listening to the needs and desires of owners of businesses of varying sizes.

Joe DeLong, executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM), said he witnessed Lamont's collaboration skills in action during CCM's rollout of Project B.E.S.T. (Bringing Every Stakeholder Together) in late 2015.

"What I saw out of him then was this ability and desire to be surrounded by diverse stakeholders and to listen and try to bring people together to build some consensus," DeLong said Wednesday. "If he can continue with that style I think that is something that has been lacking in Hartford generally. There hasn't been a lot of collaborative spirit at all."

Delong said Lamont and the state's Democratic-controlled General Assembly must look at reforming how Connecticut generates revenue, which may "require raising taxes in some areas in order to decrease taxes in others" to put together a more competitive tax structure.

This, he suggested, became nearly impossible for most Republicans during Malloy's tenure.

Joe Brennan, CEO and president of the Connecticut Business & industry Association (CBIA), and Andrew Markowski, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), were also optimistic Wednesday that Lamont will be able to create a bridge between state lawmakers and the private sector.

Brennan, who oversees the state's largest business lobby, which ran a "Fix Connecticut" campaign during the election season, says the governor-elect has a "broad perspective" of Connecticut's business climate, but cautioned that doesn't necessarily mean he will be successful.

"We don't want to do anything that is going to slow us down when we finally have some tail winds here," Brennan said of the business community's recent gains recovering from the Great Recession. "We will be very vocal in our advocacy to make sure we don't slow down recovery in Connecticut."

Markowski called Lamont a "unique" candidate compared to other recent governors given his decades-long tenure in the telecom industry.

He said NFIB hopes Lamont prioritizes lessening state regulatory burdens and curbing personal or individual income taxes as they are more harmful to small business owners.

"Far too often lawmakers and politicians when they talk about the business community talk about the large businesses and business owners," said Markowski, even though smaller entities make up the vast majority of the state's business ecosystem. "We hope the new administration can recognize the unique needs of small businesses to help get the economy moving in the right direction."

Lamont's $15 minimum wage pledge

All three officials offered trepidation about the prospects of Lamont continuing the Democratic pledge to raise Connecticut's minimum wage by more than 48 percent to $15 per hour.

Markowski said NFIB's members are "fearful" of Democratic proposals eyeing a $15 hourly wage as small-business owners "cannot absorb any more mandates or cost increases."

"Not only will there be a tremendous cost to the state, but there is a direct cost to employers," he said. "I think lawmakers and the incoming governor need to take a hard look at the policies they are proposing and take time talking to the business community.

"It's not up to a governor or politicians, it's up to the business owner to tell the governor what they think," Markowski.

Brennan also anticipates Democrats pushing legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 and requiring some form of paid family leave for private-sector workers.

CBIA has advocated against the minimum wage hike in the past, estimating the increase to $15 by 2021 will cost taxpayers $50 million annually.

Marketing Connecticut

DeLong, Brennan and Markowski said Lamont must seize the "honeymoon" phase as the business community is likely more willing to negotiate or participate in legislative matters with greater optimism.

DeLong says there is a "spirit of cooperation" within the private sector Lamont must capitalize on as C-suite executives look to raise Connecticut's business profile.

"If they have a seat at the table, see some change in direction, and they're given a government they can get behind, I think Lamont can be very successful," he said. "But they aren't going to market a product they don't believe in."

Lamont, Brennan says, should collaborate with business leaders on how to make Connecticut a destination state, rather than just offering a large incentive check. The timing is prime, he says, for the governor-elect to collaborate with business leaders to better leverage the state's assets in restructuring certain state agencies to improve their efficiencies.

Markowski says Lamont's success hinges on his ability to deliver desperately needed change for Connecticut's business sector.

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