Gov. Ned Lamont said he’s “ready to make a deal and reach a compromise” with state legislators over a transportation infrastructure plan – which may or may not include highway tolls – during an address before the Stamford Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.
Responding to a question from an audience member about tolls, the governor grinned and said, “The question is about transportation.”
“Republicans and Democrats both know the need to make investments” in infrastructure, Lamont said. “We need new revenues to bring in $600 to 700 million a year.
“I just want to get this thing going,” he said.
While he reiterated that he supports user fees, the governor indicated that “a very specific plan” on how to bring in that revenue is still in the works.
Earlier this month, Lamont and other state lawmakers met with members of the Build America Bureau of the U.S. Department of Transportation to discuss CT 2030, a 10-year plan for priority highway and rail projects intended to create less congestion, quicker commutes and increased economic activity. Credit assistance would come from the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act and the Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing program.
Lamont confirmed that the federal government has offered a low-cost credit deal to fund CT 2030, consisting of about 2% for highway loans with a repayment period of 35 years. The governor said those repayments would begin “as soon as the work is completed.”
Lamont said the federal officials told him that “it’s a unique time for us to be able to do this,” calling the U.S. DOT “real partners.”
He dismissed the Republicans’ preferred “Prioritize Progress” plan – which would use $700 million in annual borrowing, to be repaid out of the General Fund – as “the wrong way to go.”
The governor said that “once we figure out how to pay for transportation,” a greater focus will be placed on improving the state’s schools, affordable housing, and clean water, among others.
“We’ve got to hit the elephant in the room – getting our fiscal house in order,” he said.
Cooperating with partners outside of Connecticut is a must, Lamont continued, citing a meeting earlier in the week with his “new best friend,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which created a strategic partnership between the two states to establish a uniform cross-border approach to policies related to e-cigarettes and the legalization of recreational marijuana.
“It’s important to be aligned with New York,” Lamont said. “I want to take 10, 12, 15 minutes off the Stamford-New York City commute, but I can’t do it without New York. Stamford is a part of the greater New York City ecosystem – we’re not competitors.”
He added that Cuomo had told him he hadn’t visited Connecticut for over a decade. “Shame on us” for not being more welcoming, Lamont said.
The governor’s remarks were made at the Chamber’s 32nd annual meeting and awards ceremony, held at the Stamford Hilton. He praised Stamford in general, and Mayor David Martin in particular, for all of the development activity currently taking place.
“I like seeing those cranes,” Lamont said, citing the construction of a Charter Communications headquarters, expansion of Indeed’s footprint and the renovations of the 400,000-square-foot RBS building at 600 Washington Blvd., which Rubenstein Partners acquired for $163 million earlier this year. Underutilized areas within the building are being converted into additional office space.
Such moves “give you an idea of how change can be good,” the governor said. “That’s what I’m trying to do with the state.”
Lamont repeated his calls for the state to stop borrowing and to go on a “debt diet.”
He also touted delivering his first state budget in on time, and expressed optimism that progress is being made with the state’s fixed costs – its pension liabilities to the State Employees Retirement Fund and the Teachers’ Retirement Fund.
“I can’t say I’ve solved everything” during the first nine months of his tenure, Lamont said, “but I can tell you that we’re starting.”
He went on to say that he and Economic and Community Development Commissioner David Lehman “are meeting with companies every day” to make the case that Connecticut “is a place where you can grow and expand.”
Lamont called upon the Stamford business community to tout the state to companies. “Nobody sells the state of Connecticut like you do,” he said. “Tell them that we are getting our act together.”