FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. — Connecticut’s Republican leaders have derided Democrats for creating a business climate that pushed General Electric to leave the state. But U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-4th District) said the decision was more complex than just dollars and legislation.
“The story’s a little more complicated around GE than a lot of my fellow political types would have you believe,” Himes said during a town hall-style meeting in Wilton on Thursday evening. “On one side, there’s a narrative that high taxes and lots of regulation forced them out. But they moved to a jurisdiction that has higher taxes and more regulation than we do.”
GE’s motives for leaving its Fairfield headquarters are not entirely clear. The company has raised concerns over Connecticut’s business climate and the introduction of a new unitary tax, which would impact its bottom line.
But some experts and Democratic leaders have said the move was influenced by the GE’s new high-tech branding. The company, they said, wanted to attract young tech-savvy talent by moving to Boston, a technology and higher education hub.
Tax policy might have been a factor, Himes said, but not the tax rate itself.
“It wasn’t so much the absolute dollar amount of taxes that they were paying or the nature of the taxes,” Himes said. “It was the uncertainty and being surprised by changes in tax policy that was pretty uncomfortable for them.”
Himes said he met with GE CEO Jeff Immelt of New Canaan, who said Connecticut’s unfunded pension liabilities also created uncertainty for the company.
"They just wanted the taxes that were imposed to go away," State Rep. John Frey said, according to the Daily Caller, a conservative news website. "They didn’t go away entirely. They were hoping that that the root cause – unfunded pensions – would be addressed, and they weren’t."
Himes said state officials should address the issue so Connecticut businesses can have more certainty in their tax planning.
“I’m not in the business of my pointing my finger at Hartford and saying, ‘You need to do this.’” Himes said. “But clearly we need a plan that tells us where were going to go and how we’re going to address this.”
Despite GE’s decision to move, Himes said he believes that Connecticut is still attractive to large companies. Factset and Diageo, which have offices in Norwalk, are expanding, Himes said. And Pitney Bowes in staying in the state.
“I’m not going to accede to ‘the sky is falling' story,” Himes said.
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