Several weeks ago, I announced that I was exploring the opportunity to run for Governor of Connecticut. Since then, I have spent the better part of every day listening to the residents of our state. They tell me what concerns them most and what they expect from a leader. I believe this is where the focus of discussions about our state should be over the next few months.
People are hurting financially and they are angry. They don’t see the rosy picture the current administration paints of its fiscal policies and the state’s economy. The facts don’t support it either. Connecticut is the only state with a negative GDP. Life here has become unaffordable, with residents, who are taxed beyond their level of tolerance, moving out of state in droves. Unemployment in our cities is in the double digits. There are few jobs for young people and no job security for people lucky enough to be employed. While the national GDP growth rate for urban centers was 2.5 percent in 2012, after inflation, it was 0.4 percent in Fairfield County, and it shrank in our other counties by anywhere from 2.2 to 0.4 percent. With diminishing disposable income, people cannot buy houses or goods and services to fuel the economy.
What people want and expect from state leadership is clear. They want to be able to afford to live and work in Connecticut – to own or rent a home, raise a family, run a business, and retire here. They can’t afford more taxes than they’ve ever had to pay on income, pensions, gas, business profits, real estate, inheritance, and gifts. They want a job market that offers opportunity and security. They want their roads, bridges, and trains fixed before the state builds anything new. They want higher education to be affordable for their children. They want their high-performing schools and healthcare plans left alone, and they want to ensure that vulnerable populations, like seniors and the disabled, are well served.
To accomplish this, we have to preserve and expand Connecticut’s tax base, by making it attractive for people and businesses to come here, and to stay. This means creating a favorable tax environment for businesses, and a climate of support for their success. Business creates value for everyone, because jobs are the best antidote to poverty. A pro-business climate is possible only if leaders believe that business is good, and that profit is good. Government should create a supportive climate for businesses, and then get out of the way.
The first step in reducing taxes is reducing state government spending. State employee compensation and benefits plans represent a huge portion of state expenses, and we must work with all stakeholders to bring these expenses in line with the private sector. Other states, both Democrat- and Republican-led have done this successfully, getting costs under control and ensuring the solvency of retirement and healthcare plans. There are hundreds of millions potentially to be saved by eliminating duplications, waste, and fraud. We must identify services that can be performed better and more cost efficiently by community-based nonprofits. We must restrict bonding and borrowing to essential capital improvements, and bring debt in line with guidelines for strong agency ratings. And we must prioritize infrastructure investments to ensure safety, efficiency, and access.
The objective of our state’s leadership should be to make Connecticut once again the envy of the country for its low taxes, friendly business climate, excellent schools, and a superior quality of life, and to ensure that it’s a place where hard work and success are rewarded and people feel they have a future.
Connecticut’s problems are complex and challenging, but they can be solved. To do so, I believe that we must raise the standard of government and give people and businesses confidence in their leadership. This means fostering a culture of transparency and accountability, insisting on rigorous financial management, and putting the interests of the public first. I look forward to interesting and fruitful discussions on these critically important subjects throughout the coming months. That’s real leadership: focusing on what Connecticut needs now.