Democrats plan to set aside more money to subsidize wages or job training for newly hired workers as part of their 2014 plan to create jobs in Connecticut, which they announced at a Tuesday morning press conference.
During the event at the state Capitol, House Speaker Brendan Sharkey told a story likely to trouble any public official in an election year: upon learning he was a legislator, a resident informed him last week that politicians “don’t really understand what’s going on in the real world for people like me.” He said he realized it was strong feeling among the people in Connecticut who feel financially insecure.
“That’s why 2014 has to be focused . . . like a laser beam on the needs of those working families in Connecticut who need our help,” he said.
Many of goals summarized by legislative leaders will be to expand upon or re-fund successful programs originally passed during a special session on jobs in Fall 2011. That includes a proposed reauthorization of the Subsidized Employment Training Program or STEP UP, which subsidizes salaries of new employees for the first six months they’re on the job.
Since implementing the program, the state has borrowed $20 million to fund the initiative. It has exhausted all but $2.5 million in the process of subsidizing the wages of about 2,000 new workers, according to information from legislative Democrats.
“We are going to need to recapitalize that program in this year because it has been so successful that most of the funds for it have been drawn down already,” Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney said.
Senate President Donald Williams said legislative leaders do not yet have an agreement with the governor’s office on how much money will be set aside to fund the program. However, he said another $20 million authorization is their “target figure.”
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who was at a different event in Hartford, said he just got a glimpse of the proposal and “in general terms I’m very supportive of what they’re talking about.”
He said he thinks STEP UP and other employment offerings, such as programs that give even bigger benefits to companies that train veterans, have been successful.
Bonnie Stewart, vice president of government affairs for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said legislative leaders outlined a positive agenda including the STEP UP initiative, which has been a helpful program for business. But she said the state should find another way to fund the subsidies rather than borrowing money.
“We don’t want to see greater bonding, but at the same time we think that it’s a good program. So I would say do a little extra work and find out where to get that money without bonding, if we can,” she said.
Bonded debt has increased from $19.8 billion to $20.9 billion over the last three years. In 2013, the state Bond Commission approved more than $1.79 billion in borrowing.
Malloy’s budget office estimated last week that paying for the borrowing in 2014 and 2015 will account for about 8.6 percent to 8.9 percent of state spending. By 2018 it’s expected to account for about 11 percent of the total amount of spending.
The agenda also included proposals aimed at cleaning up and reselling brownfield sites, providing general education and technical training to job seekers, and creating a quasi-public state Port Authority. Another idea the Democrats endorsed would shield businesses from unfounded patent litigation.
During the press conference, Democrats, who control both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s office, sought to distinguish Connecticut’s government from political inaction in Washington.
“We don’t have gridlock in the state of Connecticut. We get things done. Democrats work with Republicans,” Williams said.
But Republicans criticized Democrats Tuesday for their policies on taxes, regulations, and employer mandates. In a press release, Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, who is seeking the Republican nomination to run for governor, said the majority party’s policies have stifled the effect of the bipartisan jobs law.
“Speaker Sharkey and Senate President Williams need to understand that they will never have a successful jobs agenda until they get serious about creating a tax and regulatory environment that encourages economic growth. To date, they have failed to do so,” McKinney said.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said that Democrats going into an election year tout what they’ve done to create jobs, and then turn around and pass legislation detrimental to business such as “Paid Sick Days” or an increase in the minimum wage.
“Those are things that kill jobs and what you hear from people all over the state is that we have a schizophrenic legislature,” Cafero said. “You say one thing and then you do another.”
However, Cafero, who has not announced whether he will seek another term, said he prefers to remain optimistic at the start of any legislative session.