“We’re just getting started,” a confident Gov. Ned Lamont told The Business Council of Fairfield County’s annual meeting yesterday at the Hilton Stamford Hotel.
The governor, identifying himself as the state’s cheerleader-in-chief, also had some news to share. That morning he’d met with a “major production company” about possibly relocating its projects from out of state. While withholding details, Lamont hinted that they were rethinking filming in Missouri, Georgia and other states “that are virtually outlawing a woman’s right to choose.”
While Connecticut reached out to Netflix, Disney and AMC earlier this month to cajole them to leave Georgia behind, he said in this case, “They reached out to us.” Lamont added that it was the first meeting of its kind he’d had and is indicative of “how the world is changing.”
He also revealed that Connecticut’s seven highway welcome centers, long closed, will reopen on July 1, something that had been recommended by House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Tourism earlier this year – an announcement that was met with robust applause by the roughly 250 people in attendance.
As for bringing tolls back to the state, which was not addressed by the state legislature during its regular session, the governor said he expected to call a special session on the topic in July, the first time he’s offered a timeline on the subject.
“My plan is a little controversial,” he said, “but I think it’s honest.”
The latter adjective seemed to be meant as a shot at state Republicans’ alternative Prioritize Progress plan, which instead of tolling calls for $684.6 million to $863 million of annual bonding over the next nine years for transportation projects – something Lamont said would overburden taxpayers. “We’ve been on a bond binge,” he said. “We’ve got to go on a debt diet.”
As opposed to the past, when the Special Transportation Fund was regularly raided to pay for other items, Lamont said he was “doubling down” on his promise that money designated for transportation would stay that way.
Lamont also declared that plans are afoot to bring a Woodstock 50th Anniversary concert to Woodstock, Connecticut, now that plans to do the same at the original site in New York have fallen through. “It’ll be three hours of peace, love and music” instead of the three days made famous by the 1969 show, he said, “but we’re getting started.”
The governor went on to tout aspects of the $43.4 billion, two-year budget he’d signed into law the day before, and seemed especially pleased that it had been done on time. The last budget had been signed by his predecessor, Dannel Malloy, in October 2017 after months of partisan wrangling, something Lamont pointed out had done a disservice to Connecticut’s municipalities looking to fix their own budgets.
The governor reiterated that “good faith negotiations” are continuing with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC). The budget includes an estimated $450 million in savings from changes to state employee health care services and a restructuring of the state employee pension debt, which total about $172 million. Republican Senate Leader Len Fasano has expressed skepticism several times over whether those numbers will hold true.
“The legislature doesn’t always like to make tough decisions,” Lamont said. “I make sure the numbers add up.”
The governor hit many of his standard talking points – wise investing in transportation will cut rail commuting time from Stamford to New York City, adding lanes to certain parts of Interstate 95 will address “the hundreds if not thousands of hours in lost productivity,” out-of-state drivers will account for 40% of the estimated $700 million in annual revenue that tolls would provide – and reiterated how Amazon’s fulfillment center under construction in North Haven would result in some 1,800 jobs.
He also declared that the state’s balance sheet “was worse than I expected” when he took office and admitted that progress has been “stop and start.
“It took us awhile to get into this mess, and it’s going to take a while to get out of it,” he said.
Investments in wind power and technology will help turn Connecticut around, Lamont said; the deployment of cutting-edge tech will mean “you won’t recognize the state government in five to 10 years.”
The governor concluded by saying the era of “all talk, no action” in the statehouse has passed.
“I’m 65,” he quipped. “I came into office to solve problems.”