NORWALK, Conn. – There’s nothing new about older Connecticut residents moving to Florida, Bob Duff said.
Duff, State Senate majority leader, engaged in a point/counterpoint discussion with House Republican Leader Themis Klarides last week in a Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce luncheon held in the Doubletree Hotel, touching on pension obligations, the bipartisan budget, SEBAC and transportation infrastructure.
“We are on the verge of snapping off and falling into Long Island Sound. I know that Bob Duff is going to say, ‘It’s not that bad.’ It’s that bad. It is,” Klarides said.
Video by Harold Cobin at end of story.
The conversation began with a question about creating jobs in Connecticut.
Duff echoed comments made earlier during the event by economist Peter Gioia about jobs that are open due to a lack of qualified employees and pointed out the long-term genesis of Connecticut’s budget crisis.
In return, Klarides said Duff was leaving out the last eight years, “the highest tax increase in the state’s history, the highest bonding in the state’s history, the most regulation in the state’s history, and the list goes on and on.”
“This state has been run and controlled by the state employee unions for way too many years,” she said, inspiring applause.
Moving on to why Connecticut has been lagging behind other areas on job creation, Duff said Connecticut’s economy changed with the 2008 recession.
UBS had 4,000 employees but now all that are left is a maintenance man and a security guard, he said.
“They didn’t leave because of any policy of the state of Connecticut, they left because of what happened to their own companies and internationally… that changed the finance services in Connecticut. I am assuming that there is at least $100 million of income taxes in that building that is no longer there now, in that one building across the street,” Duff said.
The biggest area of job loss in Connecticut over the last two years is in the government sector, he said.
“Until we have a state that has a healthy business environment… we push people out,” Klarides said, asserting that credit rating agencies agree that Connecticut’s taxes are too high.
The state is the state’s largest employer, she said, explaining that Connecticut is one of four states that collectively bargain pensions and healthcare and calling Gov. Dannel Malloy’s negotiation last year of a new contract with SEBAC (State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition) a burden that will tie legislator’s hands to 2027.
“I don’t know what to do about that. If it were me, I would get a lawyer in there and try to figure out how we would reopen that contract,” she said.
“I love Themis,” Duff said, after she said Connecticut would fall into Long Island Sound.
“He doesn’t love me,” she said to the crowd.
“I do love you,” he said, and worked his way to, “Leaders need to stop talking about how bad Connecticut is.”
That got a smattering of applause.
“SEBAC was a Republican idea back in the day,” Duff said, pointing out that while Republicans complain about Connecticut taxes, they factored all of those taxes into their state budget, which won bipartisan approval but was vetoed by Malloy.
Costs go down with the SEBAC agreement and the creation of Tier IV employees will save the state $24 billion over its life, he said.
“We are paying for what John Roland did back when I first got into the legislature because he broke the contract, as we are paying today – today – millions and millions of dollars because of illegal actions he took against that contract. That was finally settled and that is something that we are paying now,” Duff said. “Are things perfect? No. Are we hopefully turning the curve? Yes. I am very happy that we have a bipartisan budget, we made a lot of structural changes.”
Residents are leaving because they can’t afford to live in Connecticut, Klarides said.
“Bob is not wrong, and I said before, there were some good things in that negotiation,” Klarides said. “I don’t disagree with that. I also agree that the change in pension restructuring, there were some good things in that. But guys, this isn’t just me being negative. … I just tell you where things are. It is not my job to make it sound better. It is my job to tell you the good parts of it, it is about telling you were the problems are and how to fix them …. It is about making sure the structure of Connecticut changes.”
“We are an older state. We’ve got people who are retiring and they move out to Florida. It’s not a new concept,” Duff said.
One of the major reasons is the property tax burden, he said, and, “You’ve got to figure out ways to have efficiencies on the local level.”
There are 169 municipalities in Connecticut, with 162 school districts, and 15 percent of those districts have less than 3,000 students, he said, alleging waste in the expense of superintendents.
“The other looming crisis is the teachers retirement pension,” he said. “… The teachers retirement is something that we do have to deal with in this legislative session… I will do everything possible to make sure that we do not get into the problems of the past and just skim along.”
“Saying it and doing it are two different things,” Klarides said. “…I just caution you, pay very close attention to what people are saying… I swear people have Stockholm syndrome themselves at this point.”