Lamont, Stefanowski talk jobs, economy at QU

Jack Muscatello

Cat Murphy and Katie Langley

Incumbent Democrat Gov. Ned Lamont and Republican gubernatorial nominee Bob Stefanowski shared their policy plans for the New Haven area during a gubernatorial forum at Quinnipiac University’s North Haven Campus on Sept. 29. 

The forum, which followed a Sept. 28 gubernatorial debate between the candidates, centered around topics including workforce development, tax relief measures, housing, transportation, business attraction and inclusive growth.

“I think the location for a forum like this couldn’t be more fitting, because at Quinnipiac, one of our core pillars is focusing on training students to become civic and public and professional leaders in the 21st century,” said Adam Roth, dean of Quinnipiac’s College of Arts and Sciences, when opening the forum.

The Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce hosted the forum, which was co-sponsored by chambers of commerce across the state, including the Wallingford-based Quinnipiac Chamber of Commerce. 

Keyri Ambrocio, public policy and strategic communications specialist at the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, said the organization was looking to educate its members on the business policy issues that affect them most.

“We’re just looking to inform our business audience on the different platforms and help them decide on who they want to vote for in November,” Ambrocio said.

Gov. Lamont said that Connecticut residents should vote for him because he balanced state budgets and increased public programs like affordable housing. (Jack Spiegel)

James Perito, the chair of the Greater New Haven chamber of commerce, moderated separate interviews with Stefanowki, who identified himself as a socially moderate fiscal conservative, and Lamont, who characterized himself as a progressive businessman. 

Stefanowski said during the forum that the state economy has suffered under Lamont’s leadership in the past four years, while Lamont cited four balanced budgets and a multi-billion dollar budget surplus as an indicator of good performance. 

Perito said that there are more than 100,000 job openings in Connecticut and questioned both candidates about how they would balance labor supply and demand. Both Lamont and Stefanowski highlighted the importance of bringing jobs to college communities and young people. 

“The business community, you guys are the lifeblood of Connecticut, you really are, and it’s all about providing more jobs,” Stefanowski said. “It’s all about partnering with the community.” 

When it comes to helping young people get jobs, Stefanowski, a North Haven native, reminisced about taking woodworking classes in high school and said that the state should encourage schools to build trade programs that streamline the job acquisition process.

“I’ve got three daughters, and they all defaulted to four-year degrees, and I think a four-year degree is terrific,” Stefanowki said. “But a four-year degree is not for everyone.”

If re-elected, Lamont said he is committed to providing college students with better access to workforce training opportunities, such as apprenticeship and internship programs.

“Let’s face it: we’ve got some of the best colleges in the world right here,” Lamont told the Chronicle. “Certainly, (I want to) get (college students) more involved with the businesses that are here (and) get you more exposure to what your opportunities are.”

Stefanowski said young people do not face the same conditions as his generation, and that the cost of living makes it difficult for those just coming out of college to start families and have careers in Connecticut. 

“You have to have affordable housing and you have to have property taxes that make sense,” Stefanowski said. “We don’t have that right now.” 

Republican gubernatorial nominee for Connecticut Bob Stefanowski said he plans to lower regulations and taxes using the state surplus if elected. (Jack Spiegel)

Connecticut is currently the eighth most expensive state in the U.S. to live in, Perito said, which is driving residents away from the state. 

Lamont agreed that incorporating more affordable housing and “vibrant downtowns” is vital to getting people to move to and stay in Connecticut, citing increased affordable housing during his administration. However, Lamont also highlighted the importance of working with municipal mayors on housing issues and “building on the strength” of local control. 

Asked about their transportation initiatives, both Stefanowski and Lamont vocalized support for investing in Connecticut’s transportation infrastructure, including the state’s roads, bridges and airports. Although Stefanowski advocated for partially privatizing the state’s airports, both candidates expressed a desire to increase the number of commercial flights and destinations available to and from Connecticut, particularly at Tweed-New Haven Regional Airport.

The question over which the two candidates diverged the most concerned what to do with the state’s over $4 billion surplus. While Stefanowski said that the money should be spent on tax relief and regulation reduction, Lamont focused on fiscal stability and said that Connecticut should save its “rainy day fund” and pay off unfunded pension liability debts. 

Lamont said that his opponent is spending the “rainy day fund” “five times over” by suggesting cuts and relief that don’t measure up with what Connecticut has in the bank. He also highlighted the $600 million tax cut introduced this May, which included extending the gas tax suspension through the end of November 2022.

“I love the job, and I think we’re making a difference,” Lamont said. “I believe in the state of Connecticut.”

Both candidates had an opportunity to close out their sessions with an appeal to voters. Lamont cited fiscal stability and increased funding for infrastructure, affordable daycare and senior care. Stefanowski closed out his interview by compelling voters not to believe “attack ads” that claim that he opposes a woman’s right to choose. 

“My opponent doesn’t want to talk about the economy,” Stefanowski said. “Now, if you honestly think it’s safer than it was four years ago, and you honestly think (as) the business community, it’s easier to do business, as it was four years ago, and you think that the infrastructure is better than four years ago, vote for the guy who’s coming in next.”