State senators talk tax relief, transportation as legislative session nears

By Liese Klein

Jan 13, 2022

With both COVID-19 caseloads and Connecticut’s budget surplus ballooning, legislators plan to focus on helping businesses survive and thrive in the coming session, a group of state senators told the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce

With both COVID-19 caseloads and Connecticut’s budget surplus ballooning, legislators plan to focus on helping businesses survive and thrive in the coming session, a group of state senators told the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.

The lawmakers gathered on Zoom as part of the chamber’s annual Regional Legislative Forum, held virtually due to pandemic concerns. The event outlined legislative priorities ahead of the coming session, which starts Feb. 9 and lasts 12 weeks.

Even with federal pandemic aid flooding in and the state’s surplus nearing $900 million as of late last year, lawmakers need to focus on making Connecticut more affordable for businesses, said Sen. Kevin Kelly (R-Stratford), the minority leader.

“We first need to do no harm,” Kelly said, citing the familiar statistics on Connecticut’s lagging job and income growth. “We need to start to give back,” he said, advocating for a cut in the sales tax. “We need to make Connecticut affordable.”

The Connecticut Business & Industry Association and other industry groups have called for tax relief by expanding R&D and apprenticeship credits and holding off on any tax increases in the coming session.

Democratic senators joined their colleagues in arguing that further tax incentives were needed to ensure that the state prospers in years ahead.

Sen. Christine Cohen (D-Guilford) said lawmakers need to take more actions like the recent boost in the R&D tax credit for businesses to 70% from its current 50%, an increase set to take place over two years.

“We need to continue in that vein and make sure that we're really listening to the industry and understanding what their needs are,” Cohen said. She serves as co-chair of the senate’s bipartisan Bioscience Caucus, focused on turning the New Haven area into a national hub of bioscience research, development and jobs.

“More than ever, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we see how important our bioscience sector is,” Cohen said. “We need to do whatever we can to help these guys grow and innovate.”

Cohen stressed the importance of new service at Tweed New Haven Airport to bioscience companies in the New Haven area, allowing them to attract quality talent. Avelo Airlines and Tweed’s operator, Avports, have promised a $100 million overhaul of the airport to allow for more flights and new destinations.

“The expansion of Tweed is huge for this industry and the businesses around,” Cohen said. “We heard that over and over again — how important and vital transportation is.”

Bioscience industry concerns also include workforce development, a major topic of discussion at the forum as employers statewide continue to struggle to fill jobs across sectors.

Several lawmakers from both parties stressed the importance of wrap-around services like mentorship, social work and transportation aid to help younger workers train to fill positions.

Sen. James Maroney (D-Milford) floated the idea of expanding the use of Career Impact Bonds, a form of financing that allows students to defer paying for tuition and living expenses during training until they get good jobs.

“It de-risks those programs,” Maroney said.

Sen. Paul Cicarella (R-34) said he sees many open jobs of all types in his district, which includes parts of Durham, East Haven, North Haven and Wallingford.

“We need to get creative,” Cicarella said. The “benefit cliff” that faces many people who face losing medical and other coverage when taking jobs needs to be addressed, he said.

“We want to encourage people to go to work,” Cicarella said.