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Updated: October 18, 2020 Lifetime Achievement Awards 2020

Brennan’s career devoted to improving CT’s business climate

Joe Brennan has been fighting tax hikes since his first day at the Connecticut Business & Industry Association (CBIA).

As a young lawyer, Brennan joined the state’s largest business lobby looking to explore his interest in politics and government as a staff attorney specializing in tax-policy issues.

Brennan retired this July after 32 years with CBIA — including five years as its president and CEO. His tenure has been marked by ongoing battles to improve the state’s business climate and reduce tax and regulatory burdens on companies.

“I look at our role as really helping the entire state of Connecticut,” Brennan said. “We all benefit from a robust, growing economy.”

From his first months on the job at CBIA, Brennan recognized that the state’s businesses were facing serious economic headwinds. Higher property taxes for manufacturers and software were an urgent issue, along with fiscal policy. Adding to the pain as the 1980s came to a close, the nation was hit by a severe recession that cost the state 160,000 jobs.

CBIA helped usher in reforms including a spending cap and other measures in the early 1990s, but the collapse of the tech bubble and other challenges lay ahead. The Sept. 11 attacks and the 2008 recession continue to impact the state’s job creators, he added, even as lawmakers persist in seeking new tax revenue.

“Although the individual taxes that we may have dealt with have changed, the fiscal policy has remained a constant throughout my career,” Brennan said. “The overall business climate has been an ongoing challenge.”

He took CBIA’s CEO post in 2015, and immediately worked to build a coalition to convince the legislature to roll back nearly $1 billion in tax hikes.

“CBIA really stood up in 2015 and fought hard to reduce some of the taxes,” Brennan said. “Since then, we haven’t seen broad-based tax increases.”

Looking back, Brennan said he is proud that many firms continue to thrive in Connecticut, and that the state’s economic climate rankings have risen.

“Overall, I think we’re starting to trend in a better direction,” Brennan said. “We’ve got a great opportunity here to really jump ahead; we’re better positioned than many other states coming out of the pandemic.”

Even in retirement, Brennan said he continues to be active in CBIA programs, including CONNSTEP, a manufacturing consulting firm, and ReadyCT, which provides educational and career support to young people. He also plans to continue as a board member of the Governor’s Prevention Partnership, aimed at reducing youth substance abuse and violence.

“Trying to make Connecticut a better state for everyone has been really rewarding,” Brennan said. “At least some progress has been made.”

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