Hugh McQuaid / ctnewsjunkie
Rep. Vincent Candelora and Republican lawmakers (Hugh McQuaid / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — House Republicans called on the governor Thursday to take a handful of steps to ease the burden on Connecticut’s pandemic-strapped businesses including suspending a planned payroll deduction to fund the Paid Family Medical Leave program.

During a press conference on the North steps of the State Capitol Building, incoming House Minority Leader Rep. Vincent Candelora outlined a series of steps, which he said Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont could take to help the state’s struggling businesses.

Candelora’s proposals included delaying a 0.5% payroll deduction scheduled to begin in January to fund the Paid Family Medical Leave program and letting businesses delay payment of their personal property taxes until April. The paid leave program, which was passed by the legislature and signed by Lamont last year, will not start paying benefits until 2022.

Businesses aren’t being asked to contribute to the fund, but are being asked to help facilitate the program by setting up the payroll deduction.

During a separate press conference, Lamont said he would not consider delaying the deduction. The governor said the pandemic demonstrated the need for the program. He pointed to a similar initiative established by President Donald Trump’s administration on an emergency basis.

“It reinforced in my mind why paid family and medical leave is so important. This is the exact wrong time to stop what’s going to be a very important change for Connecticut families,” he said.

Candelora also called for directing leftover federal relief funds to replenish the Unemployment Trust Fund. The state has borrowed more than $800 million to keep the fund solvent. Candelora said businesses will be on the hook to repay the loans if no action is taken by the state.

Asked about the proposal, Lamont said it was the first he’d heard of but it said it seemed like a “pretty dumb idea” to him. He said the state has borrowed the money at very low interest rates and he hoped the federal government would eventually turn the loans into grants.

“They should give me some ideas on what they want me to take money away from in terms of our CARES Act funding. Maybe spend a little less on education or a little less on testing,” he said, adding that his budget chief had already allocated most of the funds. “It’s not like there’s a lot of money hanging around.”

Candelora said businesses around the state are fearful of the coming winter and the additional restrictions the pandemic may require of their operations.

“This level of fear is starting to drive businesses to despair and they’re starting to have this cost-benefit analysis of ‘Is it really worth it for me to try to keep my business open?’” he said.

The incoming Republican leader said that most of his proposals are within the governor’s authority to enact through executive order and will not require immediate legislative approval.

“Some of these are time-sensitive. They need to be done before Dec. 31. Hence, that’s why these proposals are being put forth now,” Candelora said. Taking immediate action, rather than waiting until after lawmakers are sworn in next month, will give businesses a chance to plan, he said.

“We think these decisions need to be made today, not six weeks from now,” he said.

Candelora also called on Lamont to extend a policy that prevents the state from penalizing businesses for laying off employees during the pandemic through an “experience rate.” He said increased unemployment taxes slowed the economic recovery after the last recession.

“Any action we can take on this issue today, such as freezing the experiencing rating or dedicating federal dollars to the UI Fund, like other states have, will send the long-overdue message that the state is a partner in their recovery,” he said in a press release.

Lamont’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the Republican proposals.

The Republican leader also made a request of the state’s Democratic congressional delegation. In a letter to U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Candelora asked that the delegation push to extend an interest-free period on loans the state used to keep its Unemployment Trust Fund solvent. Interest is scheduled to begin accruing on the loans on Jan. 1.

“It’s the business community that’s going to pay that. It’s unnecessary, given these extraordinary times, that we should be adding interest to something that is really a national crisis,” he said.