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March 19, 2018 Government & Politics

CBIA CEO sees shared pain in commission's recommendations

Photo | HBJ File Connecticut Business & Industry Association CEO Joseph Brennan.
Matt Pilon

Shortly after the state Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth began holding public meetings, labor leaders accused the CEO-led group of having determined in advance what they intended to recommend to the legislature — most likely, a pro-business, anti-labor agenda.

“We think the fix is already in,” AFL-CIO President Lori Pelletier said last month to the commission, co-chaired by former Webster Bank CEO James Smith and former Women's Health USA CEO Robert Patricelli.

Pelletier's remarks came not long after the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, which claims thousands of companies as members, released its 2018 legislative agenda. It included a quote from CBIA CEO Joseph Brennan that, depending on how you read it, seemed to suggest Brennan, who was not a commission member, was privy to some of the union reforms the commission intended to recommend several weeks later.

“Although the report is not due for a few more weeks, we believe it will contain important reforms regarding collective bargaining, state pensions, and other factors that are driving Connecticut's short- and long-term fiscal problems,” Brennan said in the statement.

Indeed, the commission did recommend curbing some state employee collective bargaining rights. Pelletier likes that the commission heeded her plea for a $15 minimum wage, but overall she assailed the report, calling it “a gift” to the CBIA and municipalities.

In a recent interview, Brennan said that while he knows many of the commission members personally, and has dined with several, he's no puppet master. He said he regrets the exact wording of his statement — “believe” should have probably read “hope.”

”I had conversations with these (commission members) because I know them, but I'm not on the commission,” Brennan said. “I testified publicly like everybody else.”

One surprising aspect of the commission's report is that business groups, CBIA included, have voiced major concerns about some recommendations.

CBIA supports the recommended union bargaining changes, STEM education push, lower personal income tax rates and repeal of the estate and gift taxes.

However, Brennan said his members dislike the commission's call for a 0.8 percent payroll tax on employers with 100 or more workers, which would generate an estimated $475 million in annual tax revenues by 2020. (Companies with 10 to 99 workers would pay a reduced payroll tax rate, while firms with fewer than 10 employees would be exempt.)

Brennan says if that tax passed, it may cause some employers to reevaluate their headquarters location — like General Electric and Aetna both have done in the past two years.

“You're not going to solve a problem as serious as we have without everybody feeling some pain,” Brennan said. “So we expected that there would be some contributions asked for from the business community, but the reaction around the payroll tax was pretty significant.”

CBIA is also cool to the idea of a higher sales tax and minium wage, but has not weighed in yet on highway tolls. Brennan said CBIA wants to see a detailed proposal before it opines.

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