This is not a column about the elephant in the state Capitol, the pachyderm-sized hole in the budget. Instead, it is about something more hopeful.
Running around the Capitol, in the shadow of the elephant, are opportunities for reform that will allow more people to work and thrive in Connecticut. Let’s hope they don’t get squished.
Connecticut has too much red tape, and this year lawmakers from both parties are taking action to cut it.
Unemployment for people ages 25 to 34 in Connecticut is abysmal, one of the 10 worst states and in close competition with Mississippi. This depressing statistic should motivate reform, especially the need to cut red tape for people starting their careers.
Connecticut has gone license crazy. We license people for dozens of jobs that no one should need a license to do.
Think for a minute. When you are looking for someone to do work around your house, where do you go for advice? If you said family, friends, Google, Facebook, Yelp or a premium online service like Angie’s List, I’m not surprised. How often do you make your way to a state agency to find out if someone is qualified?
The problem with state licensing is that it will never differentiate quality, but only measure if someone meets certain minimum requirements. Even if a home improvement installer has a state license, I’ll want to know if he cleaned up after himself and was nice to your kids. An interior design license — which, by the way, requires more training than becoming an EMT — won’t tell you if their taste is like yours.
Thankfully, a number of bills are moving through the legislative process to reduce these barriers in Connecticut.
Another area of red tape has to do with Connecticut’s property taxes on business inventory and equipment. These taxes hurt new businesses in two ways. First, new businesses tend to have newer equipment, so they pay higher taxes right when they are most vulnerable, at the beginning.
Second, new businesses are small yet they have to deal with the hassle of calculating the value of their equipment and inventory, even if it amounts to a tax bill of a few hundred dollars. The extra expense won’t make much of a difference, but the time finding and reporting the value of a laptop and other stuff around the office is not time well spent.
These few extra dollars probably aren’t worth the effort to the towns that collect them, either. There are bills progressing right now that would cut down on the red tape by allowing business with less than $10,000 of stuff to not figure out exactly how much stuff they have.
And then there is Tesla, the maker of electric cars founded by serial entrepreneur and eBay billionaire Elon Musk. Tesla wants to sell cars in Connecticut. Some people in Connecticut want to buy them. Some people have even traveled across state lines to buy a Tesla in a state that allows Tesla to sell them.
I don’t want a Tesla. I don’t need a Tesla. (Really, no one needs a Tesla.) But why won’t Connecticut allow Tesla to sell cars in Connecticut? Because we have a law against how they sell cars.
Traditional car manufacturers sells cars like Dunkin’ Donuts sells coffee. Local franchisees sell it on behalf of the corporation. Tesla sells cars like Starbucks sells coffee, in stores owned by the product’s manufacturer. In Connecticut and three other states, that is illegal. (Michigan, Texas and West Virginia, in case you were wondering.)
No one should care how Tesla sells its cars, least of all state lawmakers. If a business wants to hire people in Connecticut, we should welcome them instead of criticizing the way they work, especially when it is so common.
Lawmakers are also looking to legitimize ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft. To date, those companies have been operating in Connecticut, but in a legal gray area. This year could be the year that clarifies their existence. Next up, lawmakers should clear a path for Airbnb and sites that allow people to rent out their homes.
These are simple reforms that shouldn’t be controversial. There is plenty lawmakers can do to make it easier to hire and work in our state. Rather than delay, we should “eat the frog” and do something to get things going.