Gov. Ned Lamont talks to Gina Luari, owner of The Place 2 Be Credit: Christine Stuart photo

Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont and his campaign staff visited “The Place 2 Be” in West Hartford Friday to tout his record on small businesses. 

The former cable executive, Lamont, said he understands small business because that’s where he came from, but his opponent, Republican Bob Stefanowski said his actions don’t match his words. 

“These are not employees. These are not line items on a ledger, these are folks who you live and die with,” Lamont said of his Lamont Digital employees. Lamont sold his family cable business before running for governor back in 2018. 

As an incumbent, Lamont is likely to take the blame for inflation, but he said inflation is a global problem and he’s got to do what he can as governor. He said that’s why the $600 million in tax cuts are focused on the middle class. 

However, Stefanowski said if that was true then he should have paid off the unemployment trust fund debt and suspended both gas and diesel taxes. Lamont and the legislature did eliminate the 25 cent tax on the cost of gas until Dec. 1, but diesel fuel is what’s used to truck goods back and forth to these small businesses and that’s expected to go up on July 1. 

The state has yet to announce by how much it will increase the tax on diesel fuel. And Lamont has declined to delay the Highway User Tax, which will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2023. The tax on medium and heavy trucks is expected to raise $90 million for the state’s Special Transportation Fund, which currently has a $200 million surplus. 

“He really lost an opportunity,” to help small businesses, Stefanowski said. 

Lamont disagrees. 

“That Special Transportation Fund was running on fumes,” Lamont said. 

Lamont talks to patrons at The Place 2 Be Credit: Christine Stuart photo

“I have no idea where gas prices are going to be three months from now,” Lamont said. “We’ll take another look at the end of the year.” 

Lamont said he would prefer to cut the gas tax than the Highway User Tax, if he has a choice. The Highway User Tax was sort of a consolation prize for failing to get highway tolls installed during his first year in office. 

“I’m sick of politicians making big cuts that create cliffs and holes for others,” Lamont said. “Because that’s the hole in the budget I inherited three years ago.” 

As for the unemployment trust fund, Lamont said he thinks he made the right call. His focus is paying down the pension debt even though he admits that’s a lot less sexy. 

Stefanowski said businesses shouldn’t be punished for the state shutting down their businesses for the COVID-19 pandemic. And right now they’re getting assessed an additional amount for having to lay off those individuals. 

“Whether it’s small business or taxes he’s done just enough to do a campaign commercial,” Stefanowski said. 

Lamont said small business is where 90% of the economic growth is coming from to fuel Connecticut’s economy. 

John Doyle, co-founder of New Park Brewery, said they’ve been impacted by inflation from the price of aluminum used to can their product to the diesel fuel that gets the beer to the package stores. 

“Just keeping an open line,” of communication between state government and small business, is the best thing for small business, Doyle said.

Asked if he was concerned about the increase in the diesel tax, “yeah, that will definitely hurt us,” Doyle said. 

Doyle said they’ve seen demand shift to package stores. Coming out of COVID they saw an increase in the taproom foot traffic. 

“But I’m told alcohol is elastic. People drink when times are good and when times are bad,” he quipped. 

He said they try and do their best to keep the cost down without passing it along to their customer, “but there are only so many things you can do.” 

Gina Luari, owner of The Place 2 Be, said from takeout containers to chicken wings, inflation is impacting her business in different ways on any given day. She said they’ve tried to maintain their margins and not increase their menu prices. 

“It’s really just showing our customer base that we’re going to ride it out with them,” she added. 

She said they don’t have all the answers and they look to their leaders to help find a solution. She said the open line of communication is helpful. 

She said access to the Small Business Express program, approved through bipartisan legislation in 2011, was also helpful to getting their second location open. She said she was unable to get backing from a bank. 

Luari now has four locations.