According to the CT Department of Labor’s report released last month, Connecticut ranked 50th in job growth in 2019 — dead last. And to add to the grim news, our state was also last for wage growth from 2010 to 2019. So, what steps should we be thinking about?
First, successfully coping with the COVID-19 pandemic is a priority that includes widespread testing with rapid return of results in addition to adhering to the safety precautions now widely known to CT citizens. Second, we must focus on the CT economy, defined as the production and consumption of goods and services. As we look at the economic challenge, we must keep in mind several factors so that when a variety of solutions are considered, hopefully ones with few small sequential steps, they should benefit multiple constituencies. Take women, for example. The sectors of the economy that have been hit the hardest and have resulted in earlier job losses are dominated by women: health care, retail businesses and restaurants. The next wave began taking out government jobs, another sector in which women occupy. Then came the final blow, the closing of child-care centers and remote learning, leaving working mothers with simply too much to do, much more so than men. Another example is those with existing medical and financial challenges and drowning in medical debt. Their world has been turned upside down with the global pandemic making their problems worse. The solutions must be mindful of these fellow citizens.
I’m sickened by the fact we have talked so much about pension reform that I really don’t want to talk about it anymore. We must do more than talk. With total unfunded pension liabilities totaling over $85 billion as of June 30, 2019, and due to CT having the “highest debt-obligation of any state allocating 31 percent of state revenue to bond, pension and retirement health obligations,” according to Moody’s Analytics, we must address this issue.
One brighter note worth mentioning is sales tax revenue. According to the Wall Street Journal, CT income tax receipts are running .3% ahead of last year in the fiscal year that started July 1, 2020. Sales tax revenue is up, too. However, we can’t bank on short-term successes like these, as they are sure to ebb and flow over time.
When it comes to the economy, our laser focus should be on job growth and maybe some small investments in areas to help that along and through the help of public/private partnerships. We need to move ahead on a series of changes, noting there is no silver bullet because economic factors are forever changing due to forces out of our control like capital markets innovation and monetary policy. However, 60 years of life have taught me that superior execution of the fundamentals against a backdrop of fluid strategy always wins, albeit to varying degrees. We can’t promise more than we can deliver and must be pragmatic and transparent to the public about what really can be done when and how, all at very little cost, if any, if we prioritize job growth. The interesting part is that none of the efforts require starting over with new policy or beliefs by anyone; it will require self-discipline to focus on job growth until solutions are found. According to Manta, we have over 517,000 companies in our state; that’s 517,000 data points consisting of information, ideas, intellect and innovative thinking that surely hold the collective answers as to what initial and promising steps we can take to immediately improve. If there are ways to add jobs in a company, they are highly likely to know the key steps to get there.
It’s time to set a prioritized agenda and prepare it for public discussion. It must have alternatives to consider that are stress-tested in the evaluation of each. Most importantly, those that craft the ideas to consider must be mindful that how they present the information can have material impact on the outcomes. Give us just the facts.
Starting now, we should right-size government over time, working smartly with rigid deliberation in taking out the inefficiencies brought to light by the pandemic, make our tax rates competitive and focus on job growth, all the while being fair to all our citizens in the negotiations. If not, we will find ourselves in a continued economic stalemate, still dead last. We’ve hit bottom. Our time has run out.
Tony Turner most recently served as a member of the Board of Estimate and Taxation for the Town of Greenwich and is the founder and CEO of My Vote Power Greenwich (MVPGreenwich), a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to enabling ease of voting and more informed voter decisions by 18-35 year-olds. He resides in Old Greenwich, CT.