5th District Democrats say spend to stimulate economy, but differ on where
Connecticut 5th District Congressional Candidates: Christopher Donovan, Elizabeth Esty, Dan Roberti
By Jordan Fenster, Staff Reporter
The three Democrats running for Connecticut’s 5th District Congress seat share a basic belief that government needs to spend more to stimulate the economy.
Though all have New Deal-like visions of job creation through infrastructure investment, they approach the problem from a different direction.
Dan Roberti proposes investing billions over the next few years in everything from roads and bridges to wireless Internet.
Elizabeth Esty’s focus is on lowering the cost of American manufacturing by improving transportation and energy infrastructure, “investing in clean energy alternatives so we’re not so dependent on foreign oil.”
Chris Donovan envisions government-supported public housing and public education projects that create jobs.
Donovan, with his deep connections to labor, in part, sees investments directly in the public and private workforce as a way to stimulate a sluggish economy. He believes the federal government, through minimum wage increases, tax incentive investments in private companies and large public projects, can inject dollars into local economies and keep them circulating.
Esty, a lawyer, focuses more on regulation — on easing credit restrictions for small businesses and making micro-loans available for business owners without the onerous and restrictive legal costs she says are presently in place.
Roberti, who has touted his jobs plan during campaign events, sees infrastructure development as a linchpin. Culling ideas from Democratic leaders and compiling them into what he said is a comprehensive approach to job creation, Roberti supports using a trust fund to support hundreds of billions of dollars in high speed Internet, energy, schools and transportation projects.
In a recent interview, Esty spoke about the need for a “manufacturing caucus,” a group of legislators tasked with rejuvenating the nation’s manufacturing base.
“I don’t think there’s a silver bullet,” Esty said. “We are in a transition time. The world economy is in transition and we don’t know what it’s going to look like.”
“We’re poised to have a resurgence in American manufacturing,” she said.
When asked what was the worst thing to happen to the federal economy in recent years, Donovan said it was “when the Republicans won the House.”
The federal stimulus, he said, “averted, I believe, a depression,” rescuing the U.S. automotive industry. “The Republicans came and they shut off the valve.”
All the candidates speak strongly of the need to rebuild infrastructure, and Dan Roberti suggests paying for it through an “infrastructure bank,” supporting an idea raised by President Barack Obama.
In part two of his (so far) two-part plan, Roberti says, “Bipartisan legislation sponsored by Senators John Kerry, Lindsay Graham and Kay Bailey Hutchinson would provide an initial $10 billion in startup money to capitalize the bank.”
When it comes to infrastructure, Roberti proposes $260 billion in annual spending for road and bridge repair, rail lines, energy retrofits, electric grid upgrades, high-speed internet infrastructure, airports, schools and water, in addition to the $10 billion for the “infrastructure bank.”
For Roberti, even that is not enough, and will “only address a fraction of America’s infrastructure needs.”
Donovan said his ideas for job creation are a more bottom-up approach. During the most recent push to raise the state’s minimum wage, an initiative launched by the speaker of the house and his legislative allies, critics argued that such a proposal would hurt business, particularly smaller, local businesses.
Lynn Ward, president of the Waterbury Regional Chamber of Commerce issued testimony to the legislature’s Labor Committee that raising the minimum wage “would send the wrong message to both businesses and prospective hires.”
“An ongoing economic downturn that is the worst since the Great Depression is clearly not the time to enact legislation that further hinders business growth,” she wrote.
But Donovan believes differently. Many large companies, he said, are turning a profit, “just not sharing it with employees.”
“If we spend money in our community, the money will stay in our community,” he said.
“The question is, are we going to have poor communities working hard,” he said. “We need to create these jobs in a way that makes sure not only the owners but the employees themselves are treated with respect.”
Esty believes the loosening of regulations governing the banking industry have made the economic climate more difficult for small businesses.
“The unfettering of regulation the way it happened on Wall Street has led to havoc,” she said, and supports the reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act, a 1933 measure that placed regulations on banks and lenders, repealed in 1999 and tied by some economists to the economic downturn in the early 2000s.
While she said “the wish list of things that can’t happen isn’t productive,” Esty said one of her priorities is “fixing the credit problem.”
Businesses, she said, must spend an exorbitant amount on lawyers to help them obtain relatively small-sized loans.
Esty and Roberti support investing in “green” economies, which Roberti defines as “investing in energy efficient new construction, as well as retrofitting our schools, businesses and homes to take advantage of the latest technology.”
He advocates spending $50 billion over two years to retrofit schools, businesses and homes for energy savings. He believes this will create 420,000 jobs each year.
All three candidates support the idea of public-private partnerships, and Donovan points to Connecticut’s recent deal with Jackson Laboratories as an example of such a partnership, one that “helps spur growth.”
During his time in the state legislature, Donovan looked at ways the public sector could aid the private sector, he said, but there should be an understanding, even a contracted agreement between government and private business. For example, tax breaks, he said, should come with the stipulation that they will result in job creation.
Those public-private partnerships can go to building roads, bridges, supportive housing and other public-spirited projects that provide jobs, Donovan said, for “carpenters, plumbers, pipefitters” and other workers, “especially now, when we need this infrastructure.”