Gov. Ned Lamont offered a cheerfully optimistic view of Connecticut in his annual State of the State address, taking much of the credit for what he described as a turnaround after he took office in January 2019.
“Today, the state of the state is better off than it was three years ago, but we still have a long way to go,” he said. “Three years ago, we were standing at the edge of a fiscal cliff, facing a $3.7 billion budget deficit, and today we are deciding what taxes to cut or school programs to grow, thanks to our third consecutive year of budget surpluses.”
Lamont, who is seeking re-election this year, claimed he was “hell-bent on breaking” decades of tax and fee increases and declared his new $24 billion budget offered tax cuts for working and middle-class households, along with efforts to hold down the costs of health care, childcare and college tuition. He also acknowledged the level of economic uncertainty on a nationwide scale but predicted the state would not feel any tumult if the national economy tanks.
“And, in the event of a recession, we have fully funded the budget reserve, a.k.a. the Rainy Day Fund, which means Connecticut will not be forced to cut services or raise taxes,” he proclaimed. “We can all sleep easier.”
Lamont also highlighted his budget’s proposal to invest “10 times more money than ever before in workforce development” to train more than 10,000 students, noting that he place “a hyper focus on trade schools, apprentice programs, and tuition-free certificate programs where students of all ages can earn an industry-recognized credential in half the time, with a full-time job all but guaranteed.” He also pointed out plans to expand a tax credit for small businesses to help repay their employees’ student loans.
Furthermore, the governor highlighted his infrastructure investment proposals, claiming he was “making the biggest investments in our roads and bridges, in generations, certainly since Ike” – a reference to President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s domestic spending policies in the 1950s.
He also took credit for having “28 major employers” shifting their headquarters or expanding their presence in the state while calling attention to urban investment projects during his administration.
“Working alongside members of the General Assembly, including my friends in the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, we are making historic investments in our towns and cities,” he said. “That’s resulted in one of the first reductions in property tax rates in decades, including for example a twenty percent rate reduction in Bridgeport.”
To ensure public safety, the governor claimed, “I want more cops on the beat” – while highlighting how the state police “are adding more female recruits and creating a more diverse police force.”
The governor’s budget also includes nearly $160 million in additional funding for mental health services, including $26.4 million to expand access to mobile crisis units for adults and children. He repeated his call to end the statewide mask mandate in schools and child care centers on Feb. 28, though he avoided mentioning the possible extension of emergency powers granted to him by the legislature during the pandemic.
CBIA President and CEO Chris DiPentima responded to the governor’s address with caution.
“Policymakers have a one-time opportunity to get things right and must use the state’s current fiscal health to make targeted investments to resolve the labor shortage, grow the economy and modernize state government,” he said, adding the legislature needs to address the needs small businesses.
“Small businesses desperately need help addressing the labor shortage, inflation, pending tax hikes to pay off the state’s unemployment fund debt, and numerous other challenges,” he continued. “That’s where policymakers must focus this session. “We do welcome the governor’s proposals to make additional investments in workforce development programs and to modernize and streamline state government services. However, we are concerned with his proposed use of one-time federal Covid-19 relief funds to increase the size and scope of government in other areas – that’s unsustainable, particularly when considering looming budget deficits after next year.”
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