EAST HARTFORD — Democrats who have held the majority in the House of Representatives for 29 years said their message about how to help improve Connecticut’s economy isn’t a partisan one and won’t require a tax increase.
“Real leadership is more than simply being negative or launching political attacks; it’s putting forward a positive vision for Connecticut,” House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said Tuesday during a press conference at Goodwin College’s Manufacturing Center.
The comment was a criticism of the House Republicans, who last week outlined problems with Connecticut’s government, including its estimated $1.3 billion budget deficit and a record-setting level of borrowing.
Aresimowicz said voters don’t want “squabbling” or “divisive politics.” The message from voters is, “get on the same page and move Connecticut forward,” he said.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said that would be nice, but it ignores the past few years of historic tax increases and “borrowing we can’t afford.”
“With 49 days left until Election Day the House Democrats are telling Connecticut residents that we should be relieved because they now have a plan to save us from the terrible economy they created as accomplices to Governor Dan Malloy over the past six years,” Klarides said. “Their political rhetoric is one thing, and their record is something else entirely.”
She said unfortunately for Democrats “this election will be on their record, not their rhetoric.”
The Democratic Party currently holds an 87-64 majority over Republicans, which means Republicans would only have to pick up 12 seats to win back the majority it won in 1984 when Ronald Reagan was at the top of the ticket.
Democrats saw their majority shrink by 10 seats in 2014 when Malloy was at the top of the ticket. Already, 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans have announced they aren’t seeking re-election to the 151-member chamber.
“We want people to look at the building in Hartford and be proud of their elected officials and we will put the work in behind to do that,” Aresimowicz said Tuesday.
The plan House Democrats unveiled Tuesday would make a “historic investment in state’s vo-tech schools,” exempt Social Security payments from state income taxes, cap all bonding not related to economic development, create an oversight board for transportation projects, establish a 1-800 number for its angel investor program, and exempt new college graduates from the state income tax.
How much would it cost?
The exemption of Social Security from the state income tax would cost about $47 million. The cost of the tax break for new college graduates is still unknown because they are still ironing out the details. Also, it’s unclear how “non-economic development” projects would be defined so there was no information on how much money the state could save as a result.
Aresimowicz said they planned to use the money from the efficiencies they will achieve in order to pay for some of the revenue they would lose and the spending they would need for new programs.
He said they will examine every program in the budget and “if they’re not getting the results we want, we will cut them and we’ll save money there.”
The agenda titled “Investing in Connecticut’s Future” stays away from proposals such as increasing the minimum wage and other labor friendly concepts that the party has embraced in the past.
“None of our plans today involve raising or having anything tied to the minimum wage,” Aresimowicz said. “We believe that if we do the economic development that’s laid out here for you and initiate the programs that actually might take care of itself.”
As for the $1.3 billion budget deficit projected by the Office of Fiscal Analysis, Aresimowicz said he believes the budget outlook will be “brighter than what it’s guessed to be right now.”
Rep. Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, who is running for majority leader, said he’s been out door knocking with candidates across the state and voters really do care about bipartisanship.
“People want people who work across the aisle,” Ritter said.
He said voters also care about the economy. He said Democrats “aren’t trying to hide the ball” and sugarcoat what’s been a few difficult years, but he thinks the good news, such as Pratt & Whitney announcing they will create 8,000 jobs over the next decade, also needs acknowledgement.
“Sure there have been a few people who moved out, but when something big like this happens, when company moves in or we get good job growth numbers, why can’t we talk about that and celebrate that at the same time?” Ritter said. “It’s disingenuous when you’re always there to talk about the negative and you’re not there to support the positive.”
A few days after Pratt & Whitney’s announcement, the state was told it lost 800 jobs in July. It had initially thought it gained 1,700 jobs that month.
Ritter said it all needs to be taken into perspective. He said the U.S. Census Bureau released data last week that says income levels are growing for the first time since 2007, the year before the most recent recession.
Ritter said a more fair analysis that includes all that information is warranted.
Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, who is also running for majority leader, said she’s working hard to re-elect Democrats to the House because as the “caucus gets smaller, budget negotiations get more difficult.
“We need to have much greater focus on how this state grows as opposed to how we’re bleeding,” Walker added.