NORWALK — Not shy about his reason for appearing Friday before a group of about 50 Connecticut business owners, Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott asked them what he needs to do to get them to move.
Scott, who struggles with his approval ratings in his own state, touted Florida’s business-friendly atmosphere as an alternative to what could become the second largest tax hike in Connecticut’s history.
“I’m here simply to get all the jobs to Florida,” Scott told business owners.
As for the current business environment in Connecticut, Scott said, “You’re losing your most productive citizens. We’re getting them. That’s a heck of a deal.”
According to a recent CNBC poll ranking states, Florida is ranked 16th overall as one of the better states to live and work, but education issues are dragging down a traditionally strong workforce. Between 2014 and 2015 it dropped 12 places when it comes to the quality of its education. Connecticut, which came in 33 in the overall rankings, ranked 5th in education.
The meeting at the Norwalk Inn and Conference Center where the two-term governor appeared was organized by Steve Obsitnik and Bart C. Shuldman.
Obsitnik ran unsuccessfully in 2012 as the Republican candidate against incumbent Democratic Rep. Jim Himes for Connecticut’s 4th Congressional District seat. Shuldman is chairman and CEO of Transact Technologies Inc. in Hamden.
Scott said he’s lived in eight states, including Connecticut, but now lives in Florida because it’s a better place to do business.
“If you look at what your legislature’s doing versus what our legislature’s doing, we make it very difficult to compete,” he said, adding that companies are moving to Florida or Texas “because they’re out-competing the other states.”
Noting that both he and Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy took over as governors of their respective states at the same time four years ago, Scott said on day one he faced a budget deficit of $3.6 billion, a loss of 832,000 jobs the previous four years, and people leaving the state “because it wasn’t a good place to do business.
He said he immediately balanced the budget, which was not easy, because no one ever walked into his office and asked to have programs cut or taxes raised. He said he’s “completely turned [Florida’s] economy around,” cutting taxes every year he’s been in office, while Florida has seen an increase of 879,000 jobs in four years and five months.
Scott encouraged the audience members to talk to their employees about which candidates running for office would create the best business environment.
Scott noted that the head of GE, Jeffrey R. Immelt, sent a note to employees saying the company was considering moving its headquarters out of Connecticut because of proposed increases in corporate taxes.
“I cannot imagine how hard it is to get a large company like GE or Aetna to publicly say they’re thinking about moving,” Scott said. “That’s hard to do, but I’m very thankful for it.”
Democrats described the meeting as a Republican-sponsored invitation for Connecticut companies to leave the state, but Obsitnik said they tried to put together a non-partisan, non-political event.
He said Malloy was invited to attend and the program was planned before Scott asked to appear.
“He had heard about us meeting, and we said, ‘Come in and talk to us,’” Obsitnik said.
In remarks to the attendees, Shuldman said the basis for the meeting was that, as business leaders, “we’re saying we’ve had enough.”
As the meeting room filled inside, Connecticut Democratic Party Chairman Nick Balletto stood on the sidewalk in front of the inn surrounded by union leaders to condemn the gathering.
“This is the level to which Republicans have stooped,” Balletto said.
Balletto said Obsitnik ran for political office in Connecticut “and yet he’s actively encouraging businesses to leave the state. That’s unbelievable.”
Connecticut Republican Party Chairman JR Romano compared the Democrats to landlords who keep raising the rent, but when the water doesn’t work and the heat doesn’t work, they demand that you stay there.
“They should have laws against that,” Romano said.
He said they keep treating businesses as if “they’re the scourge of the earth.”
“As long as Democrats hold majorities in this state, we’re going to continue to be pilfered and butchered by more pro-growth states, and that is a fact,” Romano said.
Asked if some who attended the meeting were openly receptive to Scott’s appeal to come to Florida, Obsitnik said he knows some have started looking around because of the level of taxation in Connecticut and the loss of population is hurting their competitiveness and ability to drive profits.