Fishbein: New Year Presents Serious Challenges

Fishbein: New Year Presents Serious Challenges

The start of a new year is always symbolic, but this coming new year it’s much more than that. It’s a time when many of us will pause to take stock of the truly important things in our lives: our family and friends and their continued health and prosperity.

The pandemic and the subsequent Governor-mandated business closures have done immeasurable mental and financial harm to families, employers and workers across our state that will only begin to be realized in future years. The Connecticut Restaurant Association recently reported that, since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 600 Connecticut restaurants have closed. Employees in sectors deemed “essential” are able to work, while their neighbors are paid not to, even if they desperately want to.

Our children have been bounced between being allowed to play sports and going to school with some modifications, to having seasons ripped away and forced into distance learning based on ever-changing and conflicting guidance from the state. Parents and educators are beginning to agree with my position of many months ago, that distance learning is not an adequate substitute for that contemplated and guaranteed by the Connecticut Constitution.

Since March, more than 1 million people have requested unemployment benefits from the Connecticut Department of Labor, and more than 188,000 residents continue to file weekly claims. The state’s unemployment compensation trust ran dry in August, and the businesses that pay into that fund (many people erroneously believe that workers pay into the unemployment compensation fund), including the currently-closed bars and reduced-capacity restaurants, continue to struggle. The state has borrowed upwards of $800 million from the federal government to continue to pay unemployment benefits, and those loans must be paid back with interest that begins to accrue in the new year.

Nonprofits and restaurants continue to struggle and, with colder temperatures here, it’s only going to get worse for them. Changing guidelines and capacity restrictions have made it nearly impossible for small restaurants to safely comply and still serve enough customers to break even, not to mention be profitable. There are thousands of employees whose jobs hang in that balance.

In an effort to provide relief for the restaurant industry, the House Republican caucus recently requested that the General Assembly pass legislation that would establish a $50-million targeted pandemic relief grant fund for those restaurants with qualifying monetary losses; to suspend liquor permitting fees for one year; to delay the due date for municipal real and personal property tax payments by 90 days; and to direct the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development to partner with financial institutions to create a low interest loan program to help our restaurant industry — which many times is the lifeblood of a local economy.

Ultimately, as with everything else that government spends money on, it comes from us taxpayers, and it is the taxpayers that should have a say in this process. The legislature is the people’s voice and it is time for them to be heard again. The Governor’s conflicting rules, guidelines and random business closures have been and continue to be perpetuated by his hand, without legislative input or oversight. Since March of 2020, he has ruled the State of Connecticut by Executive Order. That needs to stop.

The new year brings a new legislative session. Let us hope it also brings a new commitment to fiscal responsibility, and to restoring the power and responsibilities of the legislature as provided by the Connecticut Constitution.

I wish you and yours a safe and healthy holiday season.

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