HARTFORD – Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont gave the annual State of the State Address to a packed Hall of the House of Representatives on Wednesday afternoon, telling lawmakers that revised revenue projections would allow him to increase spending on childcare, K-12 education, and to free Connecticut residents of more than $650 million of delinquent medical debt, among other boosts to the second year of the state’s biennial budget.
Lamont asked lawmakers for an additional $350 million for mental health, which would add up to an 11% increase since FY 19. Lamont also asked for an additional $90 million for childcare and for additional funding for K-12 education.
Retiring the private medical debt would cost the state $6.5 million, and would be paid through federal ARPA funds.
In the runup to the 31-minute address, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Jeffrey Beckham told reporters that the “mid-term budget preserves the largest income tax cut in state history… There are no new taxes in this budget. Other states, including neighboring states, have raised taxes, but not here.”
In an emailed statement to CT Examiner late Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, said the state needs to make sure its fiscal guardrails are not touched; saying they have brought stability.
“The governor pledged to leave the fiscal guardrails untouched. We need to make sure that those guardrails stay in place, because they are working. The guardrails have brought us stability, surpluses, a historic Rainy Day Fund and tax cuts. Doing away with these smart, bipartisan fiscal guardrails is not the answer,” Kelly said. “We must make our state more affordable — everything from groceries to energy to health care. We must make our communities safer. We must work to create a cleaner and greener Connecticut. We must work together to make our government more accountable. And we must create opportunities for education and skills training, for good paying jobs, for a prosperous life in our state and for a better economy. We have considerable challenges, but I am hopeful. I am hopeful that we will focus on the poor, working and middle class families who are struggling day to day and living paycheck to paycheck. We must keep them foremost in our minds and in our debates. Because we can do better to make Connecticut more affordable for all.”
Lamont claimed a number of accomplishments.
“We have eliminated the tax on pensions and 401Ks for more retirees, and we have eliminated the estate tax for 99 percent of our citizens,” he said.
“The Social Equity Council is prioritizing childcare and homeless shelters in communities that were hardest hit by the war on drugs,” he told assembled lawmakers. And, touted “home visits by experienced nurses for first-time parents in Bridgeport.”
Singling out various department and agency heads, Lamont peppered his speech with comparisons to other states. Noting the bipartisan approval of the budget and income tax cut last year, he told lawmakers the two-year budget “unlike most of our peer states is still in the black.”
But Lamont placed significant emphasis on new investments in childcare, telling lawmakers the $90 million earmark for childcare “provides the biggest commitment to childcare in our history.”
He said the additional funding next year would support higher compensation for early childhood educators and higher reimbursements for centers and family care homes.
According to state numbers, funding for early childhood, buttressed by a large in-flow of federal dollars, has increased by nearly 77 percent since FY 2019.
Lamont assured lawmakers that an additional $400 million of federal funding was still available to fund Connecticut public schools over the next two years.
He also claimed credit for current-year bonding for housing that has more than doubled over the last five years to $430 million.
“We have too many people who cannot find a place to live – it is not available, or it is not affordable,” the governor told legislators. “Our biennial budget doubles our investment in housing – workforce housing, affordable housing, supportive housing, elder housing and downtown apartments.”
He underscored several success stories related to housing.
“Why reinvent the wheel?” Lamont asked. “We have a development model that works [via the Capital Region Development Authority], which leverages the financial layer cake of state and federal dollars with private monies, which means more housing is being built faster at less cost.”
In the Hartford region alone, Lamont said, more than 5,000 homes have been built or will be built.
“We are taking this model across the state,” Lamont told lawmakers. “We will be looking for input from towns and cities – where do you want the housing to be, what is the density, and how far are you from public transportation and schools? The state will be your partner in completing the financing ASAP to get that shovel in the ground.”
He pointed to Meriden and downtown New London as places where there has been significant growth in housing stock.
As far as Meriden, Lamont said, a bankrupt shopping center and empty parking lot have been redeveloped into a park and 250 new units of housing. Downtown New London, he said, has seen more housing built in the last four years than in the previous 14 years combined.
Lamont told lawmakers that more Connecticut residents have health insurance than ever before.
He said the expansion of Covered Connecticut provides free healthcare with no out-of-pocket expenses for all parents earning less than $50,000 annually. The governor also said there are “big discounts” for middle class families on the exchange and said the Array Rx card can provide savings on drugs from 20 to 80 percent.
On infrastructure, the governor promised faster commuter times by rail.
“Each new rail bridge can save 2 to 3 minutes per ride, as trains will no longer have to slow down to travel over 100-year-old bridges,” the governor said. “Count how many bridges you cross on your commute and figure out how much time you saved.”
According to state figures, spending on workforce development initiatives at the Department of Labor has increased by $12.8 million, or 19 percent, since FY 2019. An additional $1.2 million in funding is being funded annually under the Department of Economic and Community Development for the Office of Workforce Strategy.
“Our workforce program is partnering with the building trades to make sure that quality workers are ready to go,” the governor said.
This story has been updated with revised education figures