MERIDEN — Residents and businesses alike are warning that Connecticut is heading down the wrong path, but that’s not how Sen. Dante Bartolomeo sees things.
The Meriden Democrat said the legislature, controlled by her party, has enacted policies that will spark economic development, and she believes her constituents have a more optimistic view of the state’s future than the general perception.
She said this is particularly true of parents and guardians of school-aged children. “When you talk to people who are invested in the system...they really are feeling good, especially in Meriden, about what we’ve been doing,” she said during a recent visit to the Record-Journal.
Her depiction of Connecticut differs dramatically from the view being put forward by Republicans, including her opponent, Meriden resident Len Suzio. Poll after poll has found that Connecticut residents are unhappy with the state’s direction — only 20 percent of respondents to a Quinnipiac University poll in June said the state’s economy was either “good” or “excellent.” The Connecticut Business and Industry Association, the state’s largest business lobby, announced last week that its own survey of members found that only 47 percent of the 331 businesses responding said they would continue to make job-creating investments in the state.
Bartolomeo, who represents Cheshire, Meriden, Middletown, Middlefield and Rockfall, noted that same survey found 68 percent of respondents reported earning a profit last year, however, and said the legislature is taking steps to become more attractive to employers.
She said the legislature responded with a program in this year’s midterm budget adjustment that aims to provide more funds in support of entrepreneurs and start-ups. Among other responsibilities, the legislation charges the program, a subsidiary of Connecticut Innovations, with designating so-called “innovation places.”
The bill lists criteria for the designation, including the availability of public transportation; the involvement of research institutions in plans; and relationships between medical institutions, existing companies, and start-ups within the geographic area of the innovation place.
Bartolomeo said the program addresses some of the criticisms lodged by General Electric when it announced it wanted to move its headquarters to Boston, where it could partner with premier universities in an environment also seen as more desirable by recent college graduates. She said the program is “planting the seed and continuing to grow,” and she thinks the state needs to make additional investments in higher education in order to provide the trained workforce employers are seeking.
That includes continuing to expand educational opportunities for advanced manufacturing — while businesses have credited Connecticut for having a highly educated workforce, manufacturers have complained about a lack of qualified candidates.
Bartolomeo, who co-chaired the legislature’s Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee, also said the state’s public universities need to make sure these investments improve instruction for students without raising tuition.
After battling with the University of Connecticut over compensation increases to a few senior staff members — some of which were rescinded — Bartolomeo said she “would love to have a conversation” about the legislature taking back more control of how public universities spend state dollars.
Currently, UConn and the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system receive state aid in the form of block grants, meaning the legislature has no real control over line-item spending. Bartolomeo said she also wants to continue in her efforts to make college more affordable.
She said she wants to continue to address primary and secondary education, as well, if she’s re-elected. Bartolomeo served as co-chairwoman of the Committee on Children and as a member of the Education Committee this past session.
Endorsed by the Working Families Party of Connecticut, Bartolomeo also backs progressive economic policies like a paid family medical leave act, raising the minimum wage to $15, and charging fees to large employers who pay workers less until the minimum wage reaches that level.
Republicans have also tried to use Malloy’s low approval rating — only 24 percent of respondents to the June Quinnipiac poll approved of the governor — to demonstrate voters’ frustration with the direction of the state under Democratic control.
Bartolomeo was careful when asked about her stance with Malloy, noting the poll shows people are unhappy but also said that view could be because people expected more unity between the Executive and Legislative branches controlled by the same party.
Bartolomeo said she herself has disagreed with Malloy on some key issues but also called him “very good to Meriden,” particularly in approving state bonding for commercial redevelopment.
“I think you take the good with the bad,” she said, “and we’ve differed on some issues and I appreciate his support on others.”
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