Two Fairfield County state senators made the case Thursday that hedge funds are welcome in Connecticut, despite the sometimes icy reception the industry gets from politicians and the media.
Sens. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, and L. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich addressed a crowd of more than 200 at the quarterly meeting of the Connecticut Hedge Fund Association at the Indian Harbor Yacht Club. David Burke, managing director at MKP Capital Management, moderated the discussion.
“We’re here to listen and to learn,” Leone said.
“We are proud to have you here,” he said. “I do believe that not everyone out there understands how you do what you do.”
Frantz thanked everyone in the audience for their contributions to the state, which pay for safety-net programs, roads and public safety for all residents. According to Frantz Greenwich sends $1.2 billion to Hartford and gets back $6 million.
“They’re just not used to getting thanked,” he said.
Both senators said their colleagues in the General Assembly underappreciate the hedge-fund industry.
“They do think money grows on trees,” Leone said.
He said he tries to make the connection between what happens in Fairfield County with what happens in the rest of the state. A “cold” downstate, he explained, is usually “more of a flu up there.”
Leone said when the light does go off “it’s more dim than bright.”
Frantz said even among Republicans “there’s not nearly enough understanding” of hedge funds. He said some in Hartford have “feelings of animosity” toward successful people.
People from other parts of the state view “that little rectangle” in the southwestern part of the state as a “$100 bill,” Frantz said. “It really boils down to envy at the end of the day.”
They both had good things to say about Gov. Dannel Malloy.
Frantz said there is a “much more business-oriented person in there now,” referring to Malloy. “You’re very well-liked up in Hartford, regardless of what you may hear.”
Leone said Malloy “struck a balance” when raising taxes three years ago. “I think he would have preferred not to raise them,” he said. “I don’t think it’s an overreach.”
Burke asked the senators why they thought Connecticut is home to so many hedge funds.
Frantz said Connecticut has a “critical mass” of hedge funds, which is one of the state’s key selling points. He said a concentration of hedge funds is a “wonderful thing to have, very difficult to get going.”
“A lot of corporations are here,” Leone said. “A lot of businesses are here.”
“The education level is quite higher,” he added. “You’re going to want to be where the people are.”
Frantz said the hedge fund industry is very attractive because it doesn’t pollute, brings educated people together and provides “high-value, high-paying jobs.”
“The last thing we need is more laws,” Frantz said, adding that “it never works” to pass legislation to attract businesses. He said Connecticut needs low taxes and a “dynamic, friendly, easy-to-navigate business environment.”
“That’s how you get good jobs to come to the state.”
Frantz said, although the rate has slowed recently, the state budget has grown about 7 percent annually over the past 35 years. “We all know the power of compounding.”
Burke asked about the fairness of the state giving more than $100 million to Bridgewater, one of the largest and most successful hedge funds. He said he would “stand up and salute” Ray Dalio, the company’s founder, for his success but can’t understand why the state is paying so much to save jobs “that never seemed to be at risk of leaving the state.”
Bridgewater’s future landlord is also receiving millions from the state.
“It’s funny how everyone seems to be threatening to leave,” Frantz said.
The deal doesn’t make sense, Frantz said, because Dalio’s net worth “fluctuates more in a second than the value of the entire package.” However, he said paying $150 million for a new hedge fund of that size to come to Connecticut would pay off in about nine months.
Leone said “because he’s so wealthy personally doesn’t detract” from the economic impact of having Dalio and his fund in Connecticut.
Burke said it seems that taxpayers are “paying for him to have a helipad in Shippan.”
Frantz said the state has committed $386 million to the First Five, Next Five and “yet another five” programs. “There’s a ton in the way of resources,” he said. “I would argue we’re spending too much on this.”
According to Frantz, the state is spending about $75,000 per job for its incentive programs, often in forms that don’t need to be paid back, like forgivable loans. He said economic development programs more typically offer about $12,000 per job and the money is repaid.
A member of the audience said tax rates are “appreciably less” in Connecticut.
“That delta between New York City and Connecticut has shrunk,” Frantz said, adding that “new leadership in Manhattan” might improve the situation from Connecticut’s perspective.
“I would love to see taxes go down,” Leone said.
“By the way, when you hear ‘temporary tax’ that’s government speak for permanent,” Frantz said.
“Most of us here have the misfortune of traveling” on I-95 or MetroNorth, Burke said, what about transportation?
Connecticut would have to contribute $3.7 billion to make all needed improvements to MetroNorth, Frantz said. When it comes to roads, “we’re going to be underfunded here for years to come,” he added.
Leone said officials are working to get “the federal assistance that we deserve that we don’t get.”
Burke said it is difficult for the hedge-fund industry to advocate for itself because many funds also compete to manage state pension-fund investments.
“Talking to you is a risk,” Burke said, because it could create an impression of lobbying or even corruption.
Leone said the industry could “allow the lobbyists to do that on your behalf,” while Frantz said a single representative could speak on behalf of the industry.