Dunne, Duff spar over state of Connecticut’s economy

Duff Dunne
Republican Bill Dunne, left; State Sen. Bob Duff (D-25), right.
The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 4.
The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 4.

NORWALK, Conn. – Whether Connecticut is doing poorly or Connecticut is doing well was the crux of a debate held Monday night in Norwalk, where State Sen. Bob Duff put a happy face on state government and Republican challenger Bill Dunne spent much of his time attacking the effectiveness of Gov. Dannel Malloy.

Dunne, in the League of Women Voters debate, repeatedly jabbed Duff over the legislature raiding the transportation fund, criticized Duff’s votes to spend state capital on mass transit in other areas and said repeatedly that more businesses have left Connecticut than have come in.

Duff fired back – mildly, of course – that former Republican Gov. John Rowland had a hand in the mass transit bills and said he disagreed with the “facts” as presented by Dunne.

“I reject the notion that there are more businesses that are leaving than coming into the state,” Duff said.


Dunne’s thrust:

If you want to attract business to Connecticut, you need to simplify the “ridiculous” tax code. There are currently 365 taxes and fees in the state; 77 were implemented three years ago under Malloy, with the deciding vote cast by Duff. Half don’t even pay enough in revenue to pay for the cost of collecting them.

There are 45,000 adults who were in the workforce at the start of the recession who are not employed now. The economy may have created 70,000 jobs, but Connecticut is still down 45,000.

The average income in Connecticut has dropped by $5,800 a year. “The middle class is being crushed by the policies and programs of the Malloy administration,” Dunne said.

Duff’s replies:

The Small Business Express program has helped more than 2,000 businesses; 20,000 to 30,000 jobs have been saved. The JET (Job Expansion Tax Credit) program was created, as well as programs and initiatives for veterans and the long term unemployed.

The previous administration helped 20 businesses in six years. The Malloy administration has helped 200 businesses in four years.

Connecticut was the only state in the nation to hold a bi-partisan special session, in October 2011, to address jobs. Unemployment has dropped from more than 8 percent to 6.4 percent. “After 20 years of no-net job growth, we have a lot to show for the last few years,” Duff said.

Asked how can the state help coastal communities prepare for extreme weather, Dunne said the first priority is getting the fiscal house in order.

“If our economy is not growing, if we are not creating jobs, we don’t have a strong economy, we will not have the resources to protect the environment or to protect our open spaces or protect our shoreline,” Dunne said.

Duff rattled off a list of things that were done in response to Hurricane Sandy. Connecticut is getting help in planning policies from an institute, he said. “We’re working to take the necessary precautions so we’re not building in areas that have traditionally been built but could get devastated once again, because it costs all of us when that happens,” he said.

More businesses are leaving Connecticut than coming in, even though the state is beautiful and historically and culturally rich, Dunne said. That’s because one political party has been dominating and getting everything it wanted for 40 years.

“I just don’t see how you blame hurricane Sandy on the Democrats,” Duff said.

“I didn’t,” Dunne replied.

They were asked if they supported the busway, also called Connecticut Fast Track, with 10 stops between Hartford and New Britain.

“It’s a huge waste of money,” Dunne said. He brought up the New Haven to Springfield commuter rail service that’s scheduled to begin in 2016. “Neither project is ever going to be paying for itself. We’re all going to be subsidizing them. In the meantime, the Malloy Administration, with the support of Sen. Duff, continually raids the special transportation fund,” Dunne said.

Duff called the comments about the busway nonsensical.

It started in 1997 under Rowland, was continued under Gov. Jodi Rell and finally completed under Malloy, he said. It’s estimated that there will be 16,000 riders a day, the federal government has funded $450 million of the project, and there is already increased development along the route, Duff said.

“The I-84 corridor is already extremely congested,” Duff said. “So you can make a couple of choices. You can either do nothing, you can expand the lanes, which would be even more expensive than this is, or you can try something different, which is having development on old railroad tracks. So that is kind of what has happened. That’s why I think Gov. Rowland at the time probably thought it was such a good idea.”

The rail line is estimated to cost $365 million and $190 million is from the feds, Duff said. “This is important regionally for us in a number of different ways, for, again, growth in the state, for affordable housing, to create jobs in kind of the middle part of the state,” Duff said.

“Bob is forgetting that he represents Norwalk and Darien, he doesn’t represent Hartford, Dunne said. Norwalk gets back 11 cents for every dollar and Darien gets less than 2 cents, he said.

Another question concerned state retirement benefits – should they be defined contributions or defined benefits?

Dunne endorsed the former.

“There’s no reason why state employees should be an entirely separate category from the vast majority of people working in the private sector,” Dunne said, adding that a defined benefit plan would drive the state into bankruptcy over the long term.

Duff said that was a decision made by the executive branch. “Gov. Rowland made an agreement with state employees for an over 20-year contract that we are still in place with right now,” Duff said.

Rowland purposely underfunded the pensions and put in a balloon payment at the end of the contract, Duff said.

“We are trying now to deal with that, thanks to the agreement Gov. Malloy made with the state employees three years ago,” Duff said. “If you think they were happy with it you should ask them. But they were not very happy with it, but they were created a new tier of state employees; (the agreement) asked state employees current to put more funding in for health care and for pensions. We are also fully funding the pensions for the last three years for the first time ever. It is projected to save the state $22 billion over 20 years.”

“I’m not so sure the state employees are unhappy with their deal,” Dunne said.

The two took overtime for the last question they dealt with, asking if they saw a distinction between reducing tax rates on businesses or providing “corporate welfare” with grants and other incentives.

Dunne said there is no prospect of reducing taxes under Malloy. He criticized the First Five Program, which was created with bipartisan support in 2011, with the “governor in some mysterious process picking virtually a handful of large and successful companies upon which to shower millions of taxpayer money.”

Malloy’s offer to help Bridgewater move from Westport to Stamford was an example of “administration corporate cronyism and corporate welfare that needs to be stopped,” he said.

Duff said, “I wouldn’t call giving tax credits for our veterans corporate welfare. I wouldn’t call tax credits for hiring the long-term unemployed corporate welfare. I certainly wouldn’t call some of the work we have done with Jackson Labs corporate welfare, or United Technologies corporate welfare… We have been very aggressive in trying to keep businesses in the state and help them grow.”

NBC Universal has grown more than expected, Duff said. The community colleges are moving in the right direction and the state is working to close the achievement gap, he said.

It’s an interesting dynamic, Dunne said.

“The Malloy administration clobbers business as well as individuals across the state with huge tax increases on one hand, and by that means weakens economic activity, reduces revenue, and then on the other hand then takes money out of taxpayer pockets to drop on these handful of large companies. That’s corporate welfare, that’s corporate cronyism,” Dunne said.

“I really don’t appreciate it when people don’t speak well of our state,” Duff said.

Connecticut is a leader in business research, is third in the nation for people with advanced degrees and is 10th in per capita exports, he said.

Connecticut is beautiful, Dunne said. “It’s a tragedy that Connecticut is doing as badly as it is doing, and it’s not an attack on Connecticut, it is an attack on the policies and programs of this administration, the Malloy administration and his supporters in the Senate and the House,” he said.

Duff said there is a study that shows Connecticut is in a four-way tie for state and local tax burdens when compared to its gross state product.

Dunne asked for a third rebuttal. Half of the $380 million that has been spent on “corporate welfare” went to Stamford to make improvements in advance of Bridgewater moving there – which didn’t happen, he said.

Newsflash, Duff said: Bridgewater is moving to a new place in Westport. The Bridgewter boss said, “No reason to leave the state, I have a great workforce here,” Duff said.


17 responses to “Dunne, Duff spar over state of Connecticut’s economy”

  1. anon

    “Bob is forgetting that he represents Norwalk and Darien, he doesn’t represent Hartford, Dunne said. Norwalk gets back 11 cents for every dollar and Darien gets less than 2 cents, he said.”

    Duff has photo ops in Norwalk but spends Norwalk’s money up state and in Hartford.

    If Norwalkers enjoy being shortchanged, Duff’s your guy.

  2. EveT

    Pretty clear choice for the voters. These two candidates didn’t agree on much.

  3. Oldtimer

    If Dunne had as good a command of the facts as he has of the language, he could be a serious competitor. Answering voter questions is harder than it looks, harder than speech writing.

    Bob Duff makes it looks so easy because he does a lot of work every day working on voter questions and issues.

  4. Rod Lopez-Fabrega

    Mr. Dunne has been admired for his facility with the written word. What I would like to know in the absence of his published writings is, what has Mr. Dunne actually done for the Norwalk/Darien axis he hopes to represent? Other than being a nice guy, where’s the beef?

    Mr. Duff, on the other hand, has been returned many times to office because 24/7 he is possibly the hardest working public servant anywhere and the voters of Norwalk know it. In his quiet way, he is everywhere, totally accessible to all his constituents and, let’s face it, he has direct access to those in Hartford who can help him to bring good things to Norwalk.

    Unlike Mr. Dunne who has the words and promises of an unpracticed politician, Mr. Duff has been there and produced results on a daily basis for years. Why in the world would we do anything other than to return him to office so he can keep on doing what he does best—as long as he is willing? Fortunately for Norwalk, he is.

  5. Ann

    The people who take home pensions and paychecks from the local, state, and federal governments think the Connecticut economy is doing fine. The painters, CPAs, landscapers, lawyers, restaurant owners, shop keepers, doctors, home builders, and all the other people who run small businesses think otherwise.

    The question is whether there are more people being supported by government in our state, or more people who are trying to support their families through their own small businesses?

    A local social worker told me that a person making $60,000 a year qualifies for certain types of assistance, “because its hard to make it in our area”. But the middle income families making more can’t grow with the current fees and tax structures. For example, if a painter finishes the year with a hypothetical profit of $20,000 after payroll has been met, federal and state governments take at least a third of it. It is ridiculous that small businesses cannot amass any significant capital for new investment in their companies. We need to calm down our big government deals, slow down on the expansive “freebees”, and give the small businesses of Connecticut owned and operated by Connecticut families a chance to rebuild this economy.


    Dunn is funny. He is a typical right wing kook.

  7. Piberman

    The observable facts from US Govt agencies do not support a robust CT economy 5 yrs into the nat’l economic expansion, eg CT employment remains roughly 50,000 below the pre-Recession peak. No better example of the “exodus from CT” than UBS closing its Stamford office with 2,600 jobs despite a large grant from Gov. Malloy. Most economists attribute CT’s woes to the Governor’s historic tax hike to maintain public sector employment. If past is prlogue Democratic majorities in Hartford will not undertake the actions required to restore our beleagured CT economy – lower taxes and lower spending by cutting CT public payrolls/benefits. We can expect them to expand the role of gov’t in CT with the burden passed along to employed taxpayers. Senator Duff supports the Governors’ fiscal and economic policies so we know what to expect – higher taxes. Some of us would like lower taxes.

  8. One and Done

    Bob can’t bring himself to admit publicly what a disaster Malloy’s policies have been. That’s to be expected. Hopefully, if he wins again and Malloy loses, he can get back to representing us instead of being a company man for the Democrat state machine that has grounded us.

    If Dunne wins, you know his votes will be for Norwalk/Darien, not Bob’s boss in the Governor’s mansion.

  9. One and Done

    @Piberman. 3,000 at UBS when it’s done and they’ve been walking people out for the last three years. Why no local media outlets will report this is very disturbing. There are also rumors that RBS and those 1200 jobs aren’t too far behind. We aren’t talking about the part time jobs Malloy likes to tout. If we lose Stamford, the state could spiral. Long Ridge Rd corporate parks are over 50% vacant. Duff really needs to wake up for all of our sakes instead of bragging about the 90 jobs at NBC or fixing traffic issues on I84

  10. independent voice

    Ann is right on point. The one party rule has failed CT. Ranked nearly at the bottom in attracting and retaining businesses, CT will face even larger taxes, greater business exodus, higher taxes and budget deficits. Yes, even the entitlements and lofty union benefits that have secured the democrat rule here will need to be cut. CT will need to have its’ Scott Walker moment and voters should embrace this and the Republican tsunami to sweep the nation next week.

    To quote Margaret Thatcher, “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”

  11. Jim Mercer

    I think just being a candidate is a pretty courageous thing to do, but a quick glance at the Dunne card I picked up last night tells me that he has served on the Fair Rent Commission and is a current Planning Commissioner. Of course, I know him from having attended a few of the Norwalk Taxpayer Union meetings, which were well organized and respectful of everyone as a taxpayer.

    I wish there were more people who were givers and doers like Bill Dunne, we might actually get some reform. Unfortunately, at this stage, too many people just stay on the party line and expect so little that Bob Duff impresses them because he answers an email.

  12. Jim Mercer

    and respectfully to Mr. Lopez-Fabrega, while I agree, Mr. Duff has been in Hartford for over a decade, and a lot goes along with that, what has he ever done for us while he has been there??

  13. michael foley

    I will Vote for Bob Duff because i think he is the right man for the job and i think you should also .

  14. piberman

    Curious with the advantages of a decades long super majority local Democrat legislators repeatedly claim they will continue to “fight” for more equitable ECS funding from Hartford. Term after term. Without success. What’s holding them back from success ? Fellow Democrats it seems. Similarly does anyone really believe Democrat legislators will restore fiscal integrity to CT ? Having passed a historic tax hike years ago they refuse to rescind it in order to maintain public union employment. Democrats claim they are “fighting” for jobs. By raising taxes and offering large sums to corporations who leave CT anyway. They must be the “people’s party”.

  15. lyndsay Blackman

    Ive supported bob ever since he began in politics
    He gets my help and support every time
    Signs,calls to friends
    No more
    His motto was bob duff standing up for you
    Not anymore
    He has supported everything Malloy has wanted
    He is in Malloys back pocket
    What is he looking for
    I can’t support him anymore he has turned on the people who supported him most
    My dad feels the same way and he is a friend of bob duff

  16. sofaman

    Just for clarity, and partially about this debate; it bothers me when government ( of either party ) gets blamed for things that are really to do with the private economy, not government.

    Issues with banking USB / RBS have nothing to do with taxes or the state of CT. Anyone who’s been following the banking industry knows this.

    Issues with UTC / Sikorsky have nothing to do with taxes or the state of CT. Anyone who’s been following the helicopter business knows this.

    Issues with GE Captial closing, or GE “moving” have nothing to do with taxes or the state of CT. Anyone who follows the actual reasons for GE to close its finance arm, or to poke a stick in CT’s eye knows this.

    Did GM file for bankruptcy because of the Bush White House? Right.

  17. Mike Lyons

    sofaman, are you saying that government policies have no impact on the private economy?

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