There is one (bad) joke that I probably repeat too often about how working in politics means always preparing for disappointment. In terms of sheer levels of disappointment, however, this legislative session has proven to be worse than what I usually come to expect. Considering the current political landscape in our state and the challenges we are facing coming out of a three year pandemic, policymakers have fallen far, far short of what Connecticut working families need.
Let’s start with the political landscape. Following a big wave election in 2022, Democrats managed to expand their majorities in both chambers. They control two-thirds of the seats in the state legislature. Governor Lamont won reelection by thirteen points, the largest margin in a Governor’s race since 2006. You would expect that with such large majorities and political capital Democratic leaders would have made the choice to push forward an ambitious agenda. Unfortunately, that has not been the case, and they have empowered instead the most conservative, pro-big business, anti-worker members of the party to take control.
These mistakes began early in session with the state budget. Years of austerity and tax increases, paired with a strong economy, had finally left the state with a large budget surplus and billions of dollars in cash reserves. Lawmakers finally had the chance to put the right foot forward and reverse cuts that left social services, education, and healthcare in shambles for most of the past decade, and make the investments we so desperately need in our cities and towns.
What we got instead was more austerity. Governor Lamont and House moderates insisted first on reaffirming the stringent budget rules that prevent the kind of transformational investments we need. Then, with these restrictions in place, they made their first priority gaining the support of the small Republican minority, sacrificing many of their own priorities and giving in to corporate Democrats along the way. As a result, we have a state budget that has both a massive surplus and deep cuts to items like higher education or mass transit, and flat funding or small funding increases (often well below inflation) to early childhood, social services, and many critical programs.
This blatant lack of commitment to the priorities of working families extended beyond the state budget. Lawmakers failed to pass an expansion of paid sick days to cover all workers, despite being one of the Governor’s stated priorities in his opening address. Although the Senate voted for an expansion of the current law, the House never brought the bill to the floor. We saw a similar dynamic on progressive priorities from predictable scheduling to affordable housing to healthcare expansion.
Despite huge democratic majorities in both chambers this session, political leaders, especially the Governor and the Speaker, chose to do very little for working people. Party leaders had a chance to use their large progressive majorities to support working families, truly create opportunity for those left behind, and commit to closing the massive racial and economic disparities across the state. In a year where purple states with narrow democratic majorities have pushed forward ambitious legislation across the board (see Michigan, Minnesota), the Democratic party in a blue state with giant legislative majorities seems to have given up wholesale.
We can do much better. We should do much, much better. Connecticut workers deserve much more than some small tax cuts and a budget that tweaks a few details here and there. If we want strong, inclusive, economic growth in our state, we need a legislature governed by workers, not greedy corporations, their lobbyists, and the few Democrats who are closest to them.