Representatives David Scribner, R. 107, and Dan Carter, R. 2 answered hard hitting questions by close to 75 of Bethel's small business owners at a Legislative Breakfast organized by the Chamber of Commerce.
Owners of businesses had concerns about taxes, minimum wages, and the liquor bill which has come under fire by many. Board of Education Chairman Lawrence Craybas asked about the education reform bill and wondered who would finance it. He asked, “There has to come a point where education is not tied to property taxes. We always have to take two steps back and one step forward.”
Rep. Scribner answered that he believes that bill does not adequately address many major issues, including funding. “Connecticut spends among the highest in the nation per pupil but has the highest achieve gap – it doesn’t add up,” he said.
Bethel businessman Tony Caraluzzi was very upset with the liquor bill and feared that small businesses would be forced to close. “We are not a part of the vision, big business is driving this bill. What do you do when a bill is so obviously bad?”
Scribner said, “Throw it out. This is much more than allowing the bars to stay open and Sunday sales. There are a lot of independent stores that could potentially go out of business.”
Also of concern with the liquor bill were safety procedures already in place. Scribner said that he was worried about the affect extended hours for bars and liquor stores would have on public safety. “We’ve spent a lot of money over the years to combat drunk driving and this bill is moving us in the wrong direction on that front.”
One guest at the breakfast asked if there is anything in the jobs bill that would specifically work to keep jobs in local communities. Scribner said he believed that the bill has many components that will help local businesses, including the redefinition of a small business from 50 employees to 100. He added, “The jobs bill was a move in the right direction for small businesses in the area, but there still is a lot of work to be done. I was very proud that this bill was genuinely a bipartisan effort where all voices at the table had a say on its contents.
Carter agreed. He later said, “ There was a general consensus among all of the representatives that we really made a positive difference and I was very pleased that nothing in the bill required new spending.”
When Larry Craybas raised a question about gas prices, Scribner replied that Connecticut gas has ballooned out of control, due in part to the “sky high taxes” imposed by the State.
Explaining the way taxes contribute to gas prices, Scribner said, “The government currently has two gas taxes: the Gas Excise Tax, which is a flat $.25 tax, plus the Gross Receipts tax, which is a percentage tax that skyrockets along with the cost of gas. ”
Scribner said that in all, Connecticut residents pay 68 cents in taxes per gallon on gas, adding that those numbers are among the highest in the nation. He said, “My Republican colleagues have repeatedly proposed the implementation of a ceiling on the Gross Receipts Tax that would cap it once the price of gas reached $3.00 per gallon. The proposal has gained no support from the majority.”
Gene Rubino asked the representatives if they supported an increase in the minimum wage, and Carter said, “I think it’s insane.” Carter said he believed that raising the minimum wage is counterintuitive to economic recovery. He also said that minimum wage jobs are the first to be cut when companies’ labor costs go up. “This forces many unskilled and inexperienced workers out of the job market – a demographic that has seen the most blood shed in terms of unemployment.”
Scribner agreed, adding, “Increasing the minimum wage right now would undoubtedly cause layoffs. I don’t know any minimum wage worker that would rather have a raise than have a job. I think there is a time and a place for everything – including due increases to the minimum wage – but in this time of economic recovery small businesses just can’t afford it. What also troubles me is that the proposed ‘increase’ is in fact increases. The measure would raise it twice in the next two years and then match the wage rate to the Consumer Price Index. This would prove disastrous for small businesses.”