Ned Lamont took the oath of office as the 89th governor of Connecticut on Wednesday with exhortations for the state’s officials and residents alike to “work like heck” to get Connecticut back on track.
Having been sworn in before an audience of some 1,200 at the William A. O’Neill Armory in Hartford, Lamont referenced the song “My Shot” from the Broadway hit “Hamilton” by saying: “On Election Day, thousands of voters waited for hours in the pouring rain. They believed that their vote would make a difference, and they were not going to throw away their shot — and neither are we.”
The new governor, who turned 65 on Jan. 3, continued: “I will remind all of us that there is no room for the critic on the sidelines. It is easy to vote ‘no.’ Let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt and work like heck to get to ‘yes’ — and make sure that all of our kids get their shot.”
Lamont and the new legislature inherit a budget gap of as much as $1.7 billion – something he also touched upon during his inaugural address.
“I will not allow the next four years to be defined by a fiscal crisis,” he said. “Together we will craft an honestly balanced budget which does not borrow from the future, but invests in the future. We owe all of our kids, our extended family, nothing less.”
Lamont is scheduled to present a two-year budget plan in February, which the legislature will have until June 5 to approve.
Among those in attendance at the new governor’s inauguration were outgoing Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy, Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell and independent Gov. Lowell Weicker.
Later in the day Lamont addressed the legislature at the state capitol, extolling Connecticut’s past achievements but saying, “Over the last generation, Connecticut’s entrepreneurial zip has slipped.
“We are no longer a place that is viewed as hospitable or encouraging to new businesses,” the governor said. “Connecticut, it’s time to return to our inventive and entrepreneurial roots. Our future lies in doubling down on what makes us great and reimagining our unique potential. And it starts with the best educated workforce in the world.”
Referencing the strength of the state’s education system – as well as his own time teaching at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain – Lamont said: “We do not have silicon, we don’t have natural gas, but we have always had the best educated, best trained, most productive, most inventive workforce in the world. That is our strategic advantage and it is more important in the 21st century than ever before.
“Companies roam the globe looking for talent. Look no further, you can stop right here,” he said.
Turning to the state’s financial disarray, he said: “We cannot afford to let the next four years be defined by a fiscal crisis. The fate of our great state is on a knife’s edge. If we choose inaction and more of the same – we fail. But if we choose creative and bold leadership, a commitment to make the hard and difficult choices necessary to right the wrongs of the past – we will succeed.
“Let’s fix this damn budget, once and for all,” he declared.
“In six weeks, I will present to you a budget which is in balance not just for a year, but for the foreseeable future,” Lamont continued, “so that mayors and first selectmen, business and labor leaders, teachers and police officers know what to expect. And we will deliver on what we say – on time and on budget.
“However, I want to be clear – no more funny math or budgetary gamesmanship. Don’t tell me some consultant says there are $1 billion in easy spending cuts – show me the money or I will show you the door.”
Taking a swipe at the current White House, Lamont said: “Unlike in D.C., our government doesn’t shut down – we don’t play those games here. We can’t tell students school is closed today, police or fire departments can’t say we’ll respond later and we don’t tell our most vulnerable that the services they depend upon will reopen at a later date.”
The governor further pledged that he would not “invest any time in the blame game of who’s responsible for this crisis. It’s real, it’s here and it’s time to confront it head on … Fix the budget, invest in the future and nothing can stop us.”
Lamont said he would maintain an open door policy when it comes to listening to ideas for fixing the budget, telling state employees and labor leaders that “now is the time to show that collective bargaining works in tough times, as well as good times. As our liabilities continue to grow faster than our assets, together we have to make the changes necessary to ensure that retirement security is a reality for our younger, as well as our older, state employees, and do that without breaking the bank.”
Turning to the state’s mayors and first selectmen, Lamont said: “Nothing will compromise your feisty independence, but so many services and back-office functions can be delivered at a much lower cost and much more efficiently if they are operated on a shared or regional basis. We need to break down silos and engage in the bulk purchasing of everything from health care to technology. The taxpayers of Connecticut can no longer afford to subsidize inefficiency.”
In order to maximize Connecticut’s potential, Lamont outlined four areas of focus:
- “First, I will take the lead by investing in the first all-digital government, and reverse engineer every transaction from the taxpayers’ shoes. The entry point to Connecticut will be through its digital front door, a one-stop shop for everything current and prospective citizens need from their government. We will be online, not in line. It won’t be done overnight, but let’s start today.
- “Second, to attract millennials, top talent and leading companies, Connecticut will need to invest wisely in its urban centers – making them affordable and lively, where families want to live, work and play. That means great schools, safe streets and by making our cities the first with 5G in New England. The telecommunication companies are ready to start building – let’s harness that excitement, and get Wi-Fi access into every rural town.
- “Third, none of this is possible if we don’t have a 21st century transportation system. When the Merritt Parkway opened in 1940, it wasn’t uncommon for people to pull over and picnic on the side of the road. Those of us who spend a good deal of time down in Fairfield County have contemplated the same idea today because we’re so darn frustrated by bumper-to-bumper traffic. Gridlock causes headaches and costs us jobs. So what can we do? 30/30/30 – I want the following to be a reality: 30 minutes from Hartford to New Haven; 30 minutes from New Haven to Stamford; and 30 minutes from Stamford to Manhattan with spurs to New London and Waterbury. This isn’t a pipe dream, this is a necessity: a modern infrastructure by rail, road, air and water – to unlock the full economic potential of our beautiful state.
- “Fourth, Connecticut’s economic revival cannot only be about creating opportunities for just some of our people. It must be an economy that works for everyone. We must bring our workforce into the 21st century, closely aligning it with job training, starting with STEM and coding in K-12, and access to higher education, vo-tech and apprenticeships that will result in access to good paying Connecticut jobs. That also means bringing the workplace into the 21st century, including paid family leave to make sure that parents don’t have to choose between the child they love and the job they need. It also means a $15 dollar minimum wage, responsibly and over time, so that those same parents can afford to provide for their children without working three jobs.”
Concluding his address, Lamont told the legislature: “What you can expect from me is the following: I’m a straight shooter, an honest broker and a good listener. I know what I know and I know what I don’t. I do have a strong sense of where we need to go and of what the people of Connecticut expect from us.”
In an email blast sent earlier in the day to his supporters, Bob Stefanowski, who was defeated by Lamont in November, said: “While I do believe that Governor-elect Lamont wants to stick to his promises, my concern is that the extreme liberal side of the Democratic Party will push towards the same tax-and-spend agenda we have seen for the last eight years. The rhetoric since the election has already been concerning.”
Nevertheless, he added, “With the legislative session just beginning, I remain hopeful that we can do what is right for Connecticut. It will be incumbent on all of us to watch closely and speak up. Fixing Connecticut will require strong leadership from both sides of the aisle.”