For years, business lobbyists have been trying to get state lawmakers to think about the impact their legislation has on private industry, the same way it estimates the impact on state government.
This year on the campaign trail almost every lawmaker pledged to put jobs and the economy at the forefront of their legislative agendas and last week the Commerce Committee took the first step toward making that goal a reality.
The Commerce Committee raised a concept bill which will ask the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis evaluate the impact legislation has on private industry.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said his caucus has been asking for this type of analysis for a long time. He said even if they can analyze 10 bills that come out of the Finance Committee this year it will be a victory.
“We pass so many bills and we think we’re doing a good thing, but then we find out we didn’t succeed,” Cafero said last week.
Sen. Gary LeBeau, who co-chairs the Commerce Committee, said there is an additional cost if the legislature determines it wants to ask its budget office to take a look at the impact on private industry. But LeBeau thinks they can do it cheaper than initially estimated by soliciting the help of the University of Connecticut.
The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated that it writes about 600 to 900 fiscal notes per year and in order to complete the additional work it will need a license for the Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI) software program and it will need to hire two additional analysts at a cost of $246,800 in the first year and $152,100 in the second year.
The cost of estimating 10 bills could be done with existing OFA staff, but it would still cost $123,000 in the first year and $26,000 in the second year for the cost of the software.
LeBeau argues the state already owns a license for the software program. He said the trick is getting OFA to work with the University of Connecticut to bring the cost down. But getting OFA to give up some of its autonomy may be a tough sell.
“To preserve OFA’s independence and objectivity, it would be best for OFA to perform the entire analysis,“ OFA Executive Director Alan Calandro wrote regarding the suggestion it could work with the Department of Economic and Community Development on the REMI model. “Having another agency perform part of a nonpartisan office’s analysis, could have the effect of weakening the credibility of the product.”
Regardless of exactly how the bill is drafted the business community which has been asking lawmakers to take business and industry into consideration for years is expressing caution about the proposal.
“We think it’s great lawmakers are taking a look at the impact on various industries,” Bonnie Stewart, vice president of government affairs for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said last week.
But “There’s a lot more to look at than the number of jobs created or retained,” Stewart said. “Increasing employability skills, and opportunities are also important.”
Stewart said she’s cautiously optimistic that the proposal will be beneficial, but it could also create confusion or even harm.
“The financial services industry may be impacted one way, while manufacturers are impacted in another way,” Stewart said.
She said she’s concerned about the REMI model because it estimated the high cost of business doesn’t have an impact on the Connecticut because its workers are more productive. She said productivity doesn’t offset the high cost of doing business.
“We need to be cautious,” Stewart said. “We need to focus on both the trees and the forest.”