Lamont Talks Hybrids, Carrots, Guardrails

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As state lawmakers in Hartford hash out an omnibus climate change bill, childcare funding and an electric vehicle mandate before the 2024 legislative short session adjourns May 8, Gov. Ned Lamont took 20 minutes on Wednesday to talk to CT Examiner by telephone.

In what has been a hallmark of his politics since his election and reelection as governor, Lamont touted hybrids as his Democratic colleagues talk EVs, “carrots” to encourage the construction of affordable housing as Democrats debate Fair Share and local zoning reform, fiscal guardrails as Democrats debate additional spending of the state’s relatively robust revenues.

Only questions about high-speed rail were referred to the Transportation Commissioner Garrett Eucalitto. CT Examiner had planned to ask Lamont his opinion of rebooted high-speed rail through eastern Connecticut.

The interview was lightly edited for length and clarity.

CTEx: When you were elected governor in 2018, you inherited budget guardrails that really have shaped how your own administration budgets.

Are you satisfied with the deal in place or would you support, for example, ideas like moving PILOT outside the guardrails and or adjusting the revenue cap or the volatility cap?

Lamont: No, I like the guardrails. Every three months, there are other ideas on how to, you know, make some changes, some tweaks, and that’s a slippery slope. I don’t like it.

We balanced the budget now six years in a row and we are able to pay down $8 billion of unfunded liability. The markets are really strong. As I tell my Democratic friends, we are making historic investments in daycare and education and the workforce and we’ve been able to do that, not spending nearly as much money as people want me to spend.

CTEx: Is the state on target for meeting the carbon reduction goals? Could you answer some concerns raised by Senate Minority Leader Stephen Harding regarding a shift to electric vehicles such as “How is our grid going to take this on” and “How is there going to be enough supply.”

Lamont: I don’t think we are on track to meet those emission goals. Everybody likes to vote for goals, and then when it comes to doing something about it, we get a little squishy. Obviously, the biggest source of pollution in our state is in our transportation sector. And, so you know, there’s been a couple of ideas regarding that.

Everybody always talks about EVs but nobody ever talks about hybrids. You get 50 miles to a gallon of gas. Hybrids are selling off the racks. It’s a lot cheaper and that’s probably our future for the next 10 years. EVs will catch up from there. I like giving the private sector a goal on where they want to be. They like having a goal but, at this point, there will be some task force on this issue.

CTEx: With regard to housing, are you satisfied with where we are now on the topic and or do we need a new approach and or to change gears?

Lamont: I think we need more housing. I think that is universal. Now, what do you do about it? We are taking our regional efforts we put in place here in Hartford about 10 years ago, which has got a lot of the stakeholders in terms of developers and bankers and real estate folks around the table with Mike Freimuth [executive director of The Capital Region Development Authority]. So, it’s easy in the Greater Hartford area. We don’t have the same zoning issues you have [elsewhere in the state]. That said, a lot of our suburban towns are beginning to build housing as well. Darien has 100 units under construction.

I think you will see more carrots and less stick coming out of this legislative session. I’d say the vast majority of the housing is going to be old parking lots and brownfields in our urban centers, but I think you’ll see some four and six units in some of our downtown suburbs as well. 

CTEx: If the Legislature refuses to allow any part of the $150 million they set aside for K-12 funding to be used for childcare, would you support taking that money from somewhere else and, if so, from where?

Lamont:  Hey, look, here’s the deal. We’ve got a $26 billion budget. They said we have 400 million dollars more in federal money that has not yet been put to work. I took a look at this in the last few months. We have the biggest grants to our schools in history. Maybe, I can slow down that increase and some of that money [can go] for daycare, child care. So, if they want to put it back into K-12, that’s fine as long as they keep within that $26 billion. There isn’t a lot of room to add on new spending.

CTEx: With state’s public colleges and universities facing pretty significant budget shortfalls in the coming years, is it time for a significantly new approach? Or, is it a matter of belt-tightening?

Lamont: I hate just subsidizing the status quo. I’m giving more money – our state grants – to Connecticut State Colleges and Universities and UConn than ever before …. I’ve added about 35 percent to the CSCU system. But, we’ve got some problems; there are less people going into community college than ever before. As you know, a lot of the private certificate programs are booming right now. I’m pushing hard to make sure there is some innovation there. Maybe, we do more dual degrees – we get more high school students going into the community college in their senior year so it’s an easier transition. Maybe, we do more courses in the evening, so if you get your certificate in 24 weeks, you could start working but you continue your education. 

CTEx: Are you leaning – one way or the other – on whether you will run for a third term in 2026? What will go into that thought process? We’ve also heard your name mentioned for a possible ambassadorship to France.

Lamont: Well, you’ve heard it. I certainly haven’t heard it. I feel like I just got elected. I feel like we’re just right in the middle of governing and everybody’s in a constant campaign frame. I’m not. So I’m going to put off that decision for at least another year. I think we’re getting our fiscal house in order. I think that makes a difference. People are moving into the state; jobs are moving in, and businesses are expanding in the state. But, it’s fragile. You’ve got to work every day and you just can’t rest on your laurels. So, that keeps me inspired.

CTEx: We know you support President Biden in his reelection bid. Are you confident that President Biden would defeat former President Donald Trump?

Lamont: I think I’m pretty confident. I find that at the end of the day, America definitely does the right thing after exhausting all the other options. I think people, at the end of the day, know President Biden. I think they basically trust President Biden. Nobody has this dispute about his policies, really. I think even the Republicans support what he wants to do, you know, say in Ukraine. I think we will get there.


Robert Storace

Robert Storace is a veteran reporter with stints at New Britain Herald, the New Haven Register, the Connecticut Post, Hartford Business Journal and the Connecticut Law Tribune. Storace covers the State Capitol for CT Examiner. T: 203 437 5950

Robert.Storace@ctexaminer.com