Jobs Plan sails toward passage

The Connecticut State Capitol building in Hartford.
The Connecticut State Capitol building in Hartford. Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

With the approval of a key committee in Hartford, Senate Democrats’ “Jobs Plan” is a step closer to passage.

Last week, the General Assembly’s Commerce Committee, of which Democrats are a majority, approved the employment plan, first proposed by state Senate leadership in January. The bill will now head back to the full General Assembly, where it must pass both the House and Senate before the legislative session ends in May in order to become law. Because both the House and the Senate are dominated by Democrats — in the House there are 52 Republicans and 99 Democrats, while the Senate consists of 14 Republicans and 22 Democrats — the bill’s passage appears likely.

According to Senate Democrats, the plan, which focuses on aiding job growth in small businesses, will protect and increase the number of in-state jobs. The proposal has five major components: expanding the state’s definition of a small business from 50 to 100 workers, fighting unemployment discrimination, starting a “Made in Connecticut” marketing campaign, expanding programs to help post-9/11 combat veterans find work in the state and creating a “Connecticut Treasures” program to highlight the state’s educational and tourist destinations.

The measure seeks to further the momentum created by an October jobs bill passed by Connecticut’s General Assembly with a nearly unanimous vote. The October legislation invested $60 million in city infrastructure, eased regulations on businesses, cut business taxes and provided funds for small businesses to expand.

By expanding the definition of a small business, the Democrats’ plan would boost eligibility for state small-business aid. Senate Democrats estimate that it would extend loans and grants to an additional 2,600 companies.

State Sen. Steve Cassano, Democrat of Manchester, said a broader definition of a small business will not only increase the number of applicants eligible for state loans, but will also help firms undertake expansions they might not otherwise.

“The doomsday predictions that manufacturing is dead in Connecticut are way off base,” Cassano said. “All you have to do is look at the recent growth in small manufacturers … to see that. There is long-term stability there.”

The plan also calls for an expansion of the state’s Subsidized Training and Employment Program, or STEP-Up, to benefit veterans who served in combat in the past decade. According to a 2011 report by the Congressional Joint Economic Committee, the unemployment rate for these veterans in Connecticut is 15.5 percent, compared with 11.5 percent nationally.

State Republicans, meanwhile, have yet to bring up an alternative comprehensive jobs plan. Instead, they have offered smaller proposals — most notably business deregulation and tax relief measures for businesses — that have so far received little attention.

But one of the Republicans’ proposals — for a gas tax cap — has not gone unnoticed on the other side of the aisle, as gas prices across Connecticut exceed $4 per gallon in some areas. Senate Democrats announced Monday that they would seek to cap the gas tax at its current level and strengthen the Department of Consumer Protection’s ability to prosecute gasoline profiteering.

The current unemployment rate in Connecticut is 8.0 percent, slightly below the national rate of 8.3 percent.

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