Op-Ed: Stemerman: Vital to Focus on Connecticut

By David Stemerman

At the start of my campaign for Governor of Connecticut, I conducted a poll asking voters whether they believed the state was on the right track.  My pollster reported that in decades of asking this question he had never seen “strongly disagree” chosen by so many voters, with the sentiment so widely shared by Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters.

It’s not hard to understand why the people of Connecticut feel this way.  The largest tax increases in state history have resulted in the 48th highest tax burden per person in the country.  Basic services have been cut year after year – the consequence of chronic budget shortfalls.  Jobs are flat since 2008 and the state economy is the same size as it was in 2004 – nearly a lost decade and a half. 

In Fairfield County – the state’s economic engine, the trains to New York City are slower than they were in 1970 and the stretch of I95 between Stamford and Bridgeport is the third most congested in the country.  Residential real estate, most people’s greatest store of wealth and once an almost sure bet to appreciate, has been ominously declining in value.

As I campaigned all over the state from the Fourth of July parade in Mystic to the Puerto Rican Day parade in Bridgeport, I heard the same story again and again – I love this state and want to live here, but I don’t know if I can afford to stay with my taxes and cost of living so high and going higher.

People are voting with their feet.  Connecticut has lost population five of the last six years.  In a recent poll, 50% of respondents said they planned to leave within the next five years.

The level of discontent has risen so high that on Election Day, November 6th, the voters of Connecticut might choose for the first time in 40 years to elect both a Republican Governor and a Republican legislature.  National observers rate the Connecticut Governor’s race a toss-up.  After three successive elections of gains by Republicans in the legislature, both Houses are in up for grabs.

Republicans’ strong prospects in Connecticut has attracted the focus and financial resources of the Republican Governor’s Association – the winningest major political organization in the country.  Republican candidate for Governor Bob Stefanowski has landed one of the nation’s top fundraisers, Leora Levy to Chair his Finance Committee.

The upcoming election in November will be very consequential.  The next Governor and legislature will be immediately confronted with a budget crisis.  A $2 billion deficit in the first year increases by $500 million per year to an astounding $11 billion over four.

2017’s record 123-day budget impasse provided a preview of what is in store on the current path: cuts to municipal aid that funds police; cuts to education funding for our children; and cuts to programs that support the most vulnerable in our state.

The massive structural budget deficit is the consequence of Dan Malloy’s most significant legacy – a 10-year contract he signed with state employee unions as a lame duck governor. 

The only way to move the state to a path of fiscal sustainability is to reopen and restructure the state employee labor agreements and retirement benefits.  Leadership in both the Governorship and state legislature will be required to reopen the SEBAC agreement.

Malloy’s labor deal was supported by the Democrat controlled legislature in a party-line vote.  Democrat Speaker of the House, Joe Aresimowicz is a state union employee who proclaimed on video his allegiance to the union above all.  Expect total resistance to reopening the SEBAC agreement if Dan Malloy’s co-conspirators are returned to the majority.

Democrat candidate for Governor, Ned Lamont, said that state employees have paid enough and what is done is done, implying the SEBAC agreement should stay as is.  Lamont is also on record in support of expanding the sales tax, increasing the income tax, creating a new car tax, and adding new tolls on our roadways.  If Lamont becomes Connecticut’s next Governor, expect his response to the budget crisis to be the same as Dan Malloy’s – major tax increases that will increase the burden on families and businesses and further weaken our economy. 

Republicans led by Len Fasano in the Senate and Themis Klarides in the House all voted against the SEBAC agreement.  A single added Republican in the Senate would make Fasano the next Majority Leader and five more Republicans in the House would make Klarides the next Speaker.

Republican candidate for Governor, Bob Stefanowski, has demonstrated the necessary leadership on this issue by stating his intention to reopen the SEBAC agreement.   In contrast to Lamont, Stefanowski has proposed broad-based tax relief for families and businesses which will foster growth and increase jobs, rebuilding our state’s economic foundation. 

Democrats are running a campaign of misdirection to distract voters from a track record that is indefensible.  Don’t be fooled.  When you cast your vote for Governor and State Legislature, focus solely on the State of Connecticut.

I chose Connecticut to get a job, as the home for my wife and our five children and as the location to start my business because it was the best place in the county to live, work and raise a family.  With strong new leadership, it can, and it will be again.

David Stemerman is a businessman and former Republican candidate for Governor.