Editorial: Solution to economic growth in CT is not a mystery

Construction of housing in Bridgeport is seen in 2020.

Construction of housing in Bridgeport is seen in 2020.

Brian A. Pounds, Staff Photographer / Hearst Connecticut Media

When responding to a question recently about the possibility of raising taxes on high earners, Gov. Ned Lamont’s spokesperson resorted to a familiar refrain: “We’re interested in creating more taxpayers, not more taxes.” It’s something the governor and his people say often, and it mostly comes across as a dodge. It’s not as if only one of the two could exist.

But is it even true?

The state’s business community certainly hopes so. The Connecticut Business & Industry Association recently released its legislative agenda for the 2023 session of the General Assembly, and at the top of the list is filling available positions. “The jobs are here,” CBIA CEO Chris DiPentima said. “What employers need are the workers to fill those jobs.”

The numbers back him up. There are about 100,000 job openings in Connecticut, and even if every unemployed person immediately went to work, there would still be unfilled positions. That means more people are needed in Connecticut.

To fill that gap, CBIA is pushing an agenda that includes lowering the cost of living, cutting some taxes, removing barriers to certain positions and other solutions that would have the effect of limiting the problem, but not coming close to solving it.

The issue is housing. There isn’t nearly enough of it, and what is available is too expensive. It’s a simple solution that is staring everyone in the face, from the governor to legislators to business leaders — the state must build more housing.

And yet we see nothing but trepidation from the people with the most to gain.

Lamont told a gathering of business leaders in recent days that “Everything I do with this coming budget has got to be about economic growth, which is a precondition to opportunity.” That sounds great. But it doesn’t match his actions thus far, which have been to distance himself from the housing debate and let it continue to fester at the local level.

And what we see at the local level is familiar to anyone who has paid attention to politics. Nearly every housing proposal of any kind generates an immediate negative reaction from neighbors, and therefore from local officials. The result is that little if anything gets built where it’s needed, the preferences of a small group of aggrieved residents takes precedence, and everyone in the state suffers.

There is a solution here, but it has to come from the state level. Local control will never accomplish what the state needs.

So it’s worth asking: Does the governor want to create “more taxpayers”? That means more residents, and those residents need a place to live. There aren’t empty homes for them to fill — Connecticut has one of the lowest vacancy rates in America. There isn’t a glut of homes on the market — real estate officials said recently the fewest homes are available in the state in recent history.

We need new housing. The governor needs to be a leader on this. He has to stop standing in the way of economic growth. His agenda, and his legacy, depends on it.