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First isn't necessarily best

Connecticut, which has achieved the distinction of ranking 50th and therefore last in job creation in the United States every year since 1989, now has a chance to be first — the first state to require businesses with more than 50 employees to provide those employees with five paid sick days a year.

Only the cities of Washington, D.C., and San Francisco currently mandate paid sick days. No states.

I guess we just wanted to be first in something.

Earlier this month, the Legislature’s labor committee heard testimony from the Connecticut Business and Industry Association and other business groups that being first in the nation in this area would result in lost wages, reduced benefits, increased costs and even layoffs in some of the small businesses covered by the new law. The committee responded by voting 6-4 in favor of the mandate. But hey, the recession’s over, isn’t it? Happy days are here again.

The committee vote came as the chief financial officer of United Technologies shocked and disappointed many of our public servants by telling Wall Street analysts the company needs to move more of its work to lower-cost states.

“Anyplace but Connecticut is low cost,†said Gregory Hayes, the CFO of Connecticut’s largest private employer.

Now, UTC, which has done rather well in this state with its highly skilled work force, is as greedy as the next corporation, and you can question whether any corporate citizen should go out of its way to bad-mouth the old home state in these troubled times.

Nevertheless, it’s difficult to ignore the state’s well-developed reputation for being less than business friendly and for exhibiting that unfriendliness with a quixotic piece of legislation like that first-in-the-nation sick leave mandate. It is hardly a message to send to businesses seeking to expand and looking for a state with a business-friendly environment.

While the sick day mandate was making its way through the labor committee, the candidates for governor were offering mostly generalities about the need to bring jobs to a state whose most recent steady habit has been its penchant for creating no jobs.

At the same time, legislators, most of whom will be seeking re-election in November, appear hell bent on doing nothing about creating jobs, cutting spending or raising revenue until that more vital issue, their re-election, is behind them.

The 114-member Democratic majority in the House came out of a closed-door caucus the other day to reveal they are firmly opposed to both deep cuts in spending and increases in taxes for now and are relying instead on increases in federal aid that do not yet exist and may never come to pass, given the state’s difficulty in attracting federal funds. (We are also working our way toward first-in-the-nation status in that regard.)

“I don’t think the stomach is there for taxes,†one caucus member told Keith Phaneuf of The Connecticut Mirror, but the stomach isn’t there for cuts, either, he added. “We’re stuck.â€

“I think people realize we need to do something,†Democratic Rep. Christopher Caruso told Phaneuf, “but what that something is, I don’t know.†In the realm of confidence-building sound bites, these do stand out.

It’s hard to predict whether we’ll elect a Democratic or a Republican governor, but we’re almost guaranteed to be stuck with pretty much the same Legislature we have today and possibly even the same leadership. Not a pleasing prospect.

Dick Ahles is a retired journalist from Simsbury. E-mail him at dahles@hotmail.com.

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