Editorial: Rell's vision for Connecticut seems clear
Published 1:01 am, Friday, February 12, 2010
What is the state of our state? It's been tough to gauge lately. Across the nation, and indeed the state, mainstream media and political pundits have been slinging mud into the waters, clouding our vision, confusing us and creating an environment of general hostility.
We're angry about the economy, we're angry about the job market, we're angry about the state of our schools and countless other topics. In response, we're placing the blame on anyone we can. Our legislators are especially guilty of this.
It was nice to hear Gov. M. Jodi Rell begin her State of the State speech last week by asking us to return to a civilized emotional state.
"We need to stop the game-playing and name-calling and constant bickering that has come to consume too many at the Capitol," she said.
It's hard to get any work done in an atmosphere of hysteria, and it's impossible to do so when we're spending our time and energy finding someone to blame.
There were a number of aspects that we liked about Rell's speech. She's putting forth some new ideas aimed at bolstering our economy and creating jobs. And the best part is that these ideas won't necessarily cost us any more money, they'll just be changing the way it is allocated.
She also put forth some old ideas that we agree provide options that are worth exploring.
Connecticut Credit Consortium--basically the state will cancel $100 million in old bond authorizations and use that money to leverage $400 million from Connecticut banks. That combined $500 million would go directly toward loans for Connecticut businesses. Of that $500 million, $25 million would be set aside specifically for small businesses.
Many businesses fail in this state because owners can't establish credit. All businesses, especially small businesses, need a line of credit in order to survive. Up until now, banks have been hesitant to give even minor loans to small businesses because often they're perceived as being more trouble than it's worth. There's a lot of paperwork, little profit and no guarantee of quick repayment. Rell's new financial boost from the state could give banks more confidence to make small business loans.
Job Creation Tax Credit -- This is not a new idea, and has been a viable option for big businesses. The basic idea is that a company that creates at least 10 new full-time jobs, filled by new employees, can potentially be credited for up to 60 percent of state income taxes deducted and withheld from the wages of the new employees.
Big businesses have not been availing themselves of this option, though, so Rell is proposing that the state open the option to small businesses, too.
Assuming the stipulations of this initiative don't change too much, other than allowing small businesses to apply, the idea could work. It's not open to just anyone, and the regulations are such that employers must prove that hiring these new employees is only economically viable by using the tax credit, among other requirements.
This idea likely didn't catch on with big businesses because it is harder for them to prove that this tax credit makes creating new jobs economically viable. They also aren't eligible if they receive other tax credits that are more significant. It is much easier for smaller businesses to prove that using the tax credit would make a significant difference.
While we still question the cumbersome nature of this approval process, it seems that this idea could work for small businesses.
Loan forgiveness--We think that this initiative has the potential to have a significant positive impact on this state. College students are graduating owing thousands of dollars to the state loan programs. They're mired in debt long before they enter the workforce. For too many, this burden prevents them from making their homes in Connecticut, and especially expensive Fairfield County.
Rell proposes that students who graduate with degrees in what are considered the fastest growing industries -- green technology, renewable energy, life sciences or health information technology -- receive a $2,500 annual forgiveness for each of four years if they have a baccalaureate or higher degree or $2,500 a year for two years with an associate degree.
It's a great idea, we only wish she would include another important degree: teaching.
During her speech, Rell perceptively noted that our state government "has outgrown the ability of our citizens to pay for it." Without jobs, people can't pay taxes, and this translates to less money for the state. According to Rell, 94,000 Connecticut residents have lost their jobs in the past two years. Even if each paid $100 in state taxes each year, that's a lot of money that the state no longer receives.
Her point was that there are facets of our government that we've become accustomed to because we used to be able to afford it. Her idea is to trim the fat in Hartford instead of raising taxes.
"We need to recognize that not every service, not every program, not every function is absolutely essential. We need to acknowledge that higher taxes are not the solution to our problems," she said.
While this idea is still a little vague, and we'd like to know more about the areas she's specifically targeting, we look forward to hearing more ideas on this topic.
Accordingly, we wholeheartedly support Rell's proposal to create a 24-person commission "to examine our government, top to bottom, to achieve efficiencies, eliminate redundancies and waste and reduce the size and cost of state government."
Commission members would be appointed by the governor (executive branch), chief justice (judicial branch) and both Democrat and Republican legislators (legislative branch).
Rell's proposed timeline for this is to have the problems identified by August and recommendations and hearings completed by December so the legislature can vote on the recommendations by January 2011. And she invites the public to monitor every step of the process.
With ideas like automatically putting surplus money into the state's Rainy Day Fund, controlling spending and eliminating unnecessary expenses, we think Rell's on the right track to recovery. We hope her successor is watching, listening and learning.