Gov.-Elect Ned Lamont

While Gov.-elect Ned Lamont’s administration begins this afternoon, it will have a little extra time to tackle it’s single-largest challenge: crafting a new state budget.

Normally the governor’s annual budget proposal is due to the legislature on the first Wednesday following the first Monday of February. This year that means Feb. 6.

But during a transition year, the new governor is given additional time, with the proposal due sometime between Feb. 14 and the first legislative session day afterward, which this year is Wednesday, Feb. 20.

Chris McClure, spokesman for the Office of Policy and Management, the executive branch’s chief fiscal and policy planning agency, said the new administration will use the additional time.

A specific date for the budget presentation hasn’t been settled yet, McClure added, noting that the administration first wants to consult with legislative leaders. The regular 2019 legislative session convenes today.

Lamont’s task with his first biennial budget is to avert significant potential deficits in each year.

State finances, unless adjusted, will run $1.7 billion in deficit in the 2019-20 fiscal year, according to the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis. That represents a gap equal to 9 percent of the General Fund. The potential shortfall grows to $2.3 billion or 11 percent in 2020-21.

Connecticut does have $1.2 billion in its budget reserve, commonly known as the rainy day fund. And analysts are saying the state could add another $900 million to the reserve after this fiscal year.

Lamont has said he does not want to tap the state’s reserves, preferring to keep them as a safeguard against the next recession.

But the new governor also has said he wants to shield municipal aid from deep spending cuts, keep state income and sales tax rates stable, and bolster an income tax credit that helps offset the local property tax burden on middle-class households.

Republican legislators and other critics have said the new Democratic governor will be hard pressed to keep all of those promises and avoid the potential budget deficits over the next two fiscal years.

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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