In the event Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst should find himself as Connecticut’s next governor, he has already identified which person will be the recipient of his first telephone call in that new job: his Florida counterpart, Rick Scott.
“If I’m governor, my first call is going to be to Governor Scott and I will tell him to stay the hell out of my state,” said Herbst, citing the Florida Republican’s visit to Connecticut in June when he urged business leaders to “capitulate and come to Florida and make it easier on yourselves.” But Herbst added that Scott’s attempt to lure away Connecticut businesses would not have occurred if the state was viewed nationally as a pro-business environment. “We have an image problem, a confidence problem, a morale problem.”
In June, Herbst declared his candidacy for the Republican nomination for governor. This is his second attempt at statewide office — he was the Republican candidate for treasurer in 2014 and lost to Democrat Denise Nappier by 0.9 percent of the vote. Herbst is not running for re-election this year as first selectman in Trumbull, a position he first won in 2009 when he was 29 years old.
In an interview with the Business Journal, Herbst said his gubernatorial campaign will highlight his work in Trumbull, with an emphasis on fiscal leadership. “I’ve balanced eight budgets and maintained an average tax increase of only 1.68 percent over eight years,” he said. “Our grand list showed consistent measured growth every year I’ve been the first selectman.”
He also emphasized his Trumbull strategy in positioning the town as a place to both work and live, and not just create a bedroom community or a corporate zone that empties out when offices close for the night.
“I just don’t want to attract businesses here — I want to attract people here,” he explained. “If a business is going to relocate here and people’s jobs are going to be here, I want them to give Trumbull a second look to live here, to move their family here, to make a long-term investment here. I look at what’s going on here in our town and I look at the real estate prices and taxes here in Fairfield County. I feel you get more house for your dollar and your tax dollar in Trumbull than you get in lower Fairfield County.”
For his new statewide campaign, Herbst is arguing that the state’s economy is suffering due to a failure to invest in infrastructure upgrades. He cited the headquarters exodus of General Electric to Boston and Aetna to New York as evidence of how poor infrastructure cost Connecticut longtime corporate residents.
“Massachusetts is not exactly affordable, nor is New York,” he continued. “But it says a lot why Connecticut is losing businesses to one state that was once called Taxachusetts and to another state that has multiple layers of taxation — not just local taxation, but county and state taxation. However, they are investing in infrastructure and we are not. There is no question the Merritt Parkway is in worse shape than it was eight years ago, and so is I-95. And Metro-North is a disaster.”
But Herbst is not advocating for bigger highways. “I want to get people off I-95 and the Merritt Parkway,” he added. “I am not necessarily in favor of widening lanes. After all, the more lanes you put on the highway, the more cars you put on the highway. I believe we should invest in high-speed rail.”
Herbst argued that infrastructure improvements could have been made if “the transportation fund had not been raided to artificially balance the budget.” He opposed the idea of reintroducing tolls, adding, “We should not have any conversation on tolls unless the state gets serious about an enforceable binding transportation lockbox. If you are going to put tolls in, you are going to have to eliminate the gas tax. Or if you keep the gas tax, you need to use the lockbox and make sure you are addressing what needs to be done in their roads.”
Herbst also expressed concern that the state legislature is more interested in chasing after flashy and controversial strategies in pursuit of a quick revenue rush. “I have a real problem talking about casinos and recreational marijuana as crutches to balance the state budget,” he said. “We shouldn’t be having conversations like this until we address the 800-pound gorilla in the room: the unfunded liabilities of pensions and health care that are crushing the state of Connecticut. We can’t afford them anymore.”
Circling back to Florida’s Gov. Scott, Herbst promised not to follow his lead and go into other states to lure business away — at least until he believed that he could
credibly present Connecticut as a state where people are eager to live and work.
“I want people to be proud to be from the state of Connecticut again,” he commented. “Fifty-five people are leaving our state every day. Our population is showing negative growth over the last two years. I want to inspire confidence in Connecticut. I want to change the stigma we have across the country that we’re anti-business. We are going to be turning the page — the misery index is over.”