HARTFORD – Gov. Ned Lamont promised to cut taxes for the middle class in his first address to state lawmakers since being sworn in for a second term in office, and called for collaboration to address high costs in housing, healthcare and energy that he said limit the state’s opportunity to grow in the coming years.
Lamont said in his State of the State speech on Wednesday that when he first took office in 2019, the discussion was about Connecticut’s “permanent fiscal crisis.” Now, he said the state is on stable ground thanks to budget guardrails put in place by the legislature in 2017, and is in position to make what he promised would be a “meaningful middle-class tax cut.”
Lamont praised residents of the state for sticking together to help Connecticut to move into recovery faster. Now, three years on, with less concern about emergency recovery, buying masks and tests, and keeping businesses open, Lamont said he worries more that the state and country will miss the opportunity to “lift families up” in the recovery.
“The next four years should focus more on recovery and less on rescue. Less need for lifelines, and more focus on ladders,” Lamont said. “Keep our economy growing, making sure that growth means a ladder to opportunity for everyone, regardless of background, regardless of zip code.”
In response, Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, told CT Examiner he was “optimistic and enthusiastic” that Lamont promised a middle-class tax cut, and spoke about the importance of the 2017 budget safeguards that Kelly called “the cornerstone of Republican ideals.”
“These are issues that Republicans proposed last year in our budget adjustment, where we offered $1.2 billion of tax cuts while paying down pension debt,” Kelly said. “I’m happy to hear the governor sees it the way we do. The middle class of Connecticut, the working class, needs help.”
Kelly said Lamont will also find Republican support for workforce development and efforts to make healthcare and energy more affordable – which he said Republicans will put forward plans to accomplish in the coming weeks.
Kelly said Connecticut needs an educational system that addresses the state’s need for teachers, nurses and manufacturing engineers, and he said he was glad to hear Lamont was looking at the same areas.
“The majority has been focusing on things like the minimum wage, and we have to get away from that and start focusing on jobs that can pay a mortgage, raise a family, and contribute to your community,” Kelly said.
Lamont called economic growth was his top priority, and said it’s “the precondition to economic opportunity” for people and places that don’t have the same access to opportunities. He said training programs for higher skilled jobs and initiatives to create a “workplace that meets the needs of the young family” – like paid family and medical leave – and a higher minimum wage have all been steps toward closing the gap to fill open jobs in the state.
A lack of housing, he said, is the biggest impediment to making Connecticut affordable and growing the economy.
“Every business thinking about moving or expanding repeats over and over, ‘Even if you had the workforce, there’s no place for them to live,’” Lamont said. “The answer can’t simply be more subsidies. Connecticut towns and cities, here’s the deal: You tell us where developers can build more housing. Tell us where you want it built. It can be built faster, built at less cost, re-zoned, and local control will determine how and where it’s built.”
Lamont said the state also needs to address affordability in energy and healthcare costs. He called on insurance companies not to “just pass along those hospital and pharma costs,” but reward patients who seek treatment where “they get the best quality and best value.” And he called on electric utilities to do more to help customers with high supply costs this winter.
“Come on electric companies, don’t just tell me you’re passing along those high natural gas prices, [and then ask] the ratepayer, ‘Oh can you just subsidize it just a little bit more?,’” Lamont said. “Let’s get together. We’re already getting control over our energy supply, so Putin and the Saudis don’t have control over our destiny and our wallets.”
Lamont called for using the influx of federal COVID relief money to invest in schools and infrastructure, and to “stop pouring money into a leaky bucket” by spending hundreds of millions of dollars to patch up railroad bridges.
“Fix the bucket and put the money to work,” he said.