SOUTHINGTON —The owner of a small business in Cheshire said his shop is struggling and has been for some time, forcing him to slowly shutter parts of the company while trimming his work force by 20 or so positions over the last five years. Then, he asked Rep. Rob Sampson the question a lot of folks have posed during the last few weeks: Why isn’t Connecticut doing more to support and attract businesses to the state to generate revenue instead of increasing taxes? Roughly 100 people turned out for a forum at Town Hall tonight, where Sampson and state Sen. Joe Markley talked about the state’s ailing job market, its fiscal crisis, the governor’s plan to tackle them both, and old-fashioned common sense.
Sampson and Markley, both elected in November, started their event by describing Connecticut’s many financial problems—from its massive unfunded pension liabilities and onerous taxes to unbridled government spending and a high level of debt.
“We have major structural problems,” Sampson said of Connecticut’s budget, roughly $3.5 billion in the red. The freshman legislator showed the crowd a graph detailing significant government spending increases over the years, including those proposed recently by Gov. Dannel Malloy.
“There are peaks and valleys in people’s incomes, but there are no peaks and valleys in the line for spending,” he said. “That’s a mountain.”
Before taking questions from the crowd, Sampson and Markley talked about some of the more controversial parts of Malloy’s budget proposal, from his move to eliminate the $500 property tax exemption to his much-maligned plan to increase the state’s already sky-high gasoline tax.
Overall, Malloy’s budget carries roughly $3 billion in tax increases over two years. And Sampson, addressing the concerns of business owners, has said repeatedly that Malloy’s tax-heavy budget plan runs counter to his message that Connecticut is now “open for business.”
Those tax increases, combined with even more state spending, irked many residents in the room and stand opposite to the common sense principles touted by Sampson and Markley: Government shouldn’t spend more than it takes in and it shouldn’t borrow more than it can afford to pay back.
For their part, residents hit a variety of topics with their questions—from the cost of group homes and unfunded state mandates to decriminalization of marijuana and real estate conveyance taxes.
At the forum’s end, a woman who moved back to Connecticut from Louisiana described her “culture shock” as she learned about this state’s taxes and regulations. She asked the lawmakers how the people in the room could help them in their efforts to get Connecticut working again—in away that’s affordable to taxpayers.