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Duff battles Klarides in Chamber talk about economy

From left, State Rep. Themis Klarides (R-114), House Minority Leader and State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) speak last week at a Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce luncheon. (Harold Cobin)

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.”

11 comments

Sue Haynie January 22, 2018 at 6:53 am

Bob Duff, all the northeast/midwest states have old people who move to Florida. But none of them are losing population the way Connecticut is, few are as financially crippled either. Talking points can’t hide the truth.

Drewt January 22, 2018 at 8:02 am

You just have to love it when the Clueless Bob BS train goes off the rails and people speak the TRUTH right in front of him! And here is one of the many reasons the State of Connecticut is such a horrible shape. Bob and his one party rule love to blame this one or that one or this reason etc. What they never do is take the blame and ownership of the mess they have now created! But we all know this November their time is up and then we will have a true chance to save this State before Duff and Co can do anymore damage! I just hope we can hang on that long!

Piberman January 22, 2018 at 8:47 am

CT would have had an anemic recovery even had the Governor not inherited a $4.1 bil. Deficit and is exiting with same size projected for his successor. Economic growth takes place mainly in new industries in vibrant cities. CT has niether a major presence in hi-tech nor vibrant cities outside Stamford which is both small and tied to NYC. Sen. Duff ought speak to major business leaders throughout the State. HIgh costs courtesy of our very large public sector – 1/4th of our State GDP – and lack of hi-tech skilled employees discourage new business entry into CT.

These issues have a long history. The Budget gets the attention. But its the lack of modern, vibrant hi-tech cities that hangs over CT together with the large costs of providing services to its 169 towns and State government that primarily explain the well documented Exodus. Takes more than changing political parties in Hartford.

CT really needs a full time well paid Legislature to increase our talent base in Hartford. Otherwise we’ll continue to see lower incomes replacing higher incomes moving out of a high taxed environment.

Tom Keegan January 22, 2018 at 10:44 am

While Ms. Themides & Mr. Duff are wrangling about Connecticut’s economy and revenue problems…maybe one of them can explain why 25% of State of Ct. teacher’s pensions is exempt from state income tax…BTW that figure goes up to 50% next year. (Public Act 14-47)

Tom Keegan January 22, 2018 at 10:46 am

CORRECTION !While Ms. Klarides & Mr. Duff are wrangling about Connecticut’s economy and revenue problems…maybe one of them can explain why 25% of State of Ct. teacher’s pensions is exempt from state income tax…BTW that figure goes up to 50% next year. (Public Act 14-47)

Kevin Kane January 22, 2018 at 1:48 pm

Bob, put the shovel down and park the backhoe – stop digging the hole deeper. So clueless. He needs to knock on the doors of the Human Resource people directly involved in the hiring process to understand the REAL issues. They are crystal clear in the recruitment process: people don’t want to move here for many economical reasons. What was your analysis Bob of the IRS data in my last letter? What got us here, Bob? Hint – old people have been moving out of New England for years. Rowland has been gone for 14 years – who the h is allowed to blame a manager, coach, boss etc. for issues allegedly started 14 YEARS ago? Talk to a small business owner and delve into the regulations and crazy taxes – I pay CT sales tax on cloud-based software service as if it came in a box from BestBuy? /Why? What are the stories behind your 3 real estate listings? https://www.williampitt.com/agents/bobduff/search/real-estate-sales/?_agent=9800 Why are the units for sale? What are other people saying in your real estate office from the Sell side?

Kevin Kane January 22, 2018 at 1:52 pm

Rick January 22, 2018 at 7:04 pm

There is no higher office in the State, Mayor of Norwalk has to be on his bucket list.

Why else would Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce do this?

Andrew January 22, 2018 at 7:12 pm

John Rowland left office July 2004.
It is time to stop looking back and come up with forwarding thinking leadership.

Non Partisan January 23, 2018 at 8:02 am

I’m so tired of the pontificating

On a micro level Norwalks finances can be stabilized by
– moratorium on creation of new subsidized housing ( to expand the grand list)
– end sanctuary city policies
– enforce zoning/ illegal apartments/ blight

When are we going to start fighting for common sense.

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