“I’m having a ball!” Gov. Ned Lamont told attendees of The WorkPlace’s quarterly meeting this morning at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport. “And I’ve only been doing this for five months!”
The cheery attitude may be surprising to some observers, given the governor’s difficulties in getting an agreement on bringing tolls back to the state’s highways, criticism of his negotiations with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, and some misgivings about his support of the new minimum wage and family leave laws.
Throw in the fact that, according to a poll in April, he was tied with Kentucky’s Matt Bevin for least-popular governor in the country, and Lamont’s bubbly demeanor seems particularly counterintuitive.
But the longtime Greenwich resident has maintained an image as an irrepressible cheerleader for the state’s potential, and he stuck with that theme throughout his 15-minute address.
Lamont cited the previous day’s visit to Amazon’s under-construction fulfillment center in North Haven as a win for the state, and repeated his position that United Technologies Corp.’s relocating some 100 executives to Boston is more than compensated for by UTC’s CEO and Chairman Gregory Hayes’ promise that its Pratt & Whitney division will make 1,000 new hires in the coming years, while its Otis Elevator “is staying in Connecticut and already hiring.”
Expressing surprise at the latest job figures – Connecticut lost 1,500 jobs in May, according to the state Department of Labor – the governor echoed WorkPlace CEO and President Joe Carbone’s remarks earlier in the morning that a significant factor in the state’s current problems is the lack of qualified workers for available jobs – a gap that Carbone said was “the real sin in all of this.”
That “skills gap” is particularly in evidence in the manufacturing, finance and health care sectors, Carbone said. He also suggested that the perception of a booming economy is tempered by the fact that the sectors with a surplus of workers – personal care, food preparation, and entertainment – are traditionally lower-paying jobs.
Amazon is “desperately looking” for workers, Lamont said. “There are tens of thousands of jobs we’re having problems filling right now.”
Key to the state’s growth, he continued, is the state’s transportation system, especially when it comes to getting people to and from work. Lamont said he hoped to “fix the choke points” on I-95, revamp railroad stations like Bridgeport’s, and improve commuting times to New York City.
“Take out all that friction and we’ll make this economy sing,” he declared.
Asked by the Business Journal about the thorny issue of tolls – his latest pitch to state Republicans to approve them having apparently been in vain – the governor repeated his belief that they can generate some $700 million in revenue, 40% of which would be from out-of-state drivers.
“We’ve been helping Gina Raimondo and Charlie Baker,” the respective governors of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, each of which have tolls, Lamont said. “We could use a little help in return.”
The governor also predicted that congestion pricing would encourage tractor-trailers to travel during off-peak hours, helping address traffic jams on the likes of 95. “We could raise $1 million a day over Memorial Day weekend alone,” he said.
Lamont declined to say when the special legislative session he’s sought to decide on tolls will occur. “Maybe we should let the people vote on it,” he suggested. “We’ve all been talking about it for a long time. Let’s decide the best way to go forward.”