CBIA President Chris DiPentima

The state’s largest business lobby Thursday announced its legislative agenda, which focused on addressing Connecticut’s workforce shortage and making the state a more affordable place to live.

“There are nearly 100,000 job openings in the state, while 85% of employers struggle with finding and retaining employees,” Connecticut Business & Industry Association CEO Chris DiPentima said. “The jobs are here. What employers need are the workers to fill those jobs.”

This year the group, which has been at odds with previous Democratic administrations, seems to be on the same page. 

“Everything I do with this coming budget has got to be about economic growth, which is a precondition to opportunity,” Gov. Ned Lamont told the group at CBIA’s annual Economic Summit Outlook event at the Hartford Downtown Marriott.

There are roughly 100,000 job openings in Connecticut and both Lamont and CBIA want to get people back to work. 

“We have a mismatch between people looking for work and the skills we need out there, and shame on us … if we don’t take advantage to make sure we lift everyone up and give them these opportunities,” Lamont said.

CBIA unveiled an agenda that includes lowering the state’s cost of living, developing more housing options, removing workforce barriers, including sales tax on training programs and occupational licensing restrictions, and easing the tax burden on small businesses. 

Earlier this week, Lamont announced he planned to increase the credit for the pass-through entity tax to lower the cost to about 123,000 small and medium-sized businesses in the state. 

The tax, passed in 2018, was designed as a benefit for the business owners it impacts, allowing them to claim state and local tax deductions which they became ineligible for as a result of federal tax changes made in 2017. While the federal law capped the personal income tax deductions of business owners, the pass-through entity tax shifted the burden onto the business and allowed business owners to claim a deduction on their federal income tax return.

DiPentima said what Connecticut needs is workers to fill the job openings. 

One of those employers is Avelo Airlines, which operates out of Tweed in New Haven. 

Avelo Airlines CFO Hunter Keay told the group that they’ve been operating out of Tweed for a year now and while they didn’t turn a profit this year they are laying the groundwork for future growth. 

With 150 crew members and 14 planes, the low-cost airline, Keay said it’s slightly more difficult to operate in Connecticut than in other states because of some of the hidden taxes. He said the jet fuel tax, which is waived or capped in other states, is 9% per gallon here in Connecticut. 

He said that factors into whether the airline will be able to offer longer flights to places like San Juan, Puerto Rico. He said as a low-cost airline they can’t make those longer flights work at the moment because it would increase the ticket cost, which is an average of $75 right now, by $20 per passenger to account for the fuel costs. 

“Some of these tax schemes have been around for a really long time,” Keay said. “At the end of the day it’s going to cost new market growth.”

While he said the state of Connecticut has been a great partner in getting up and running other states like Delaware where they are opening in a few weeks waived the jet fuel tax for them for the first couple years. 

He said airlines help generate economic growth for an area and most of Avelo’s traffic comes from around the New Haven area.