Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public Radio
Ned Lamont addresses a campaign union rally. mark pazniokas / ctmirror.org

Nearly three months in office, Gov. Ned Lamont has promised an open door and open mind to both business and labor, while siding firmly with the rich on taxes and the working poor on the minimum wage. All in all, Lamont has left his friends in progressive politics to wonder at times what values lay at his core.

“I think the jury is still out on that piece,” said Sal Luciano, the president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, the statewide labor federation that endorsed Lamont, a Democrat and wealthy Greenwich businessman who has long defied easy categorization. “It’s a major question.”

Lamont ran for governor last year as a defender of collective bargaining by public-sector unions and pledged his support for a $15 minimum wage and paid family and medical leave. He also touted his background as a cable entrepreneur, someone committed to fiscal discipline and economic growth.

But his proposed budget has been a disappointment to liberals, expanding the goods and services covered by the sales tax, while holding the line on the income tax — a pledge he made during the campaign.

“Ned’s not an ideologue, but his core is good. He’s a work in progress. And just like FDR, we have to make him do the right thing.”

Tom Swan 
Executive Director, Connecticut Citizen Action Group

His nomination of David Lehman, a partner at Goldman Sachs during the 2008 financial collapse, as commissioner of economic development has also struck some allies as tone deaf. It has forced the administration into an awkward lobbying campaign for his confirmation. The Senate could vote on the confirmation today.

And, finally, Lamont has asked labor for concessions on retirement benefits, angering his union supporters.

Ryan Drajewicz, the governor’s chief of staff, said some tensions with labor are inevitable as the administration closes a projected $3.7 billion budget shortfall over two years.

“The way we approached the budget, the very first stakeholder we approached was labor,” Drajewicz said. “We’ve got a $3.7 billion hole we have to fill. And we have to work together to do that. The governor was frank with them. We’re not going to agree on everything, but we’re going to respect each other. We’re keeping an open channel.”

The governor is now meeting every other week with labor, he said.

Gov. Ned Lamont and David Lehman. ctmirror.org

Lamont is the great-grandson of Thomas W. Lamont,  who represented the U.S. at the Versailles Conference in 1919, and was an informal adviser to Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt as a partner and eventual chairman of J.P. Morgan & Co. Some of his liberal supporters say FDR could be a model for the great-grandson.

“Ned’s not an ideologue, but his core is good,” said Tom Swan, who managed Lamont’s campaign for U.S. Senate in 2006, when his anti-war challenge of Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman briefly became a national referendum on the war in Iraq. “He’s a work in progress. And just like FDR, we have to make him do the right thing.”

The right thing to progressives like Swan, the executive director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, is to raise the top rate on the income tax. Connecticut had the highest per-capita income in the U.S. in 2018, as well as one of the greatest gaps in wealth and poverty.

“It’s indefensible that the top one percent got approximately $70,000 in cuts through the Trump tax scam, and Ned’s not asking them to contribute one penny to helping him build the middle class,” Swan said. “It’s unacceptable, and we’re going to do everything we can to help him understand that.”

Lamont has reneged on one campaign pledge by proposing highway tolls for all motor vehicles, not just trucks. But he told the Connecticut Business and Industry Association last week that he was not budging on his promise to hold the line on the income tax.

“I have to give people some certainty that my word is good,” Lamont said.

Joseph Brennan, the president of CBIA, said he sees Lamont is “absolutely sincere” in his desire to stabilize the state’s finances and grow the economy.

“I think his head and his heart are certainly in the right places, but he’s got to deal with the legislature, which has a pretty aggressive agenda” of things that run counter to a better business climate, he said.

Brennan said business appreciates that Lamont, in trying to broaden the sales tax base, did not propose applying the sales tax to business-to-business transactions.

“In this building, you’ve got to set the line in the sand. I don’t think he understands that.”

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said he finds Lamont to be personally engaging, but he and other legislators are uncertain about the governor’s core beliefs, which can complicate Lamont’s job when it comes time to negotiate a budget deal or final version of legislation.

Sen. Len Fasano speaks to reporters after Gov. Lamont’s state-of-the-state address Ryan Caron King / CT Public Radio
Sen. Len Fasano speaks to reporters after Gov. Lamont’s state-of-the-state address Ryan Caron King / CT Public Radio

“You know how this building works if he doesn’t come out and say, ‘If that bill in the current form comes to my desk, I’m going to veto it.’ I haven’t heard that. I’ve heard, ‘I don’t like what they’re doing, but we’re talking and we’re moving.’ In this building, you’ve got to set the line in the sand,” Fasano said. “I don’t think he understands that.”

Colleen Flanagan Johnson, the governor’s senior adviser, said that Lamont’s repeated promise that he is willing to listen to anyone who has a better idea is a sign of confidence, not weakness.

“He has been very clear about the things he is not willing to budge on,” she said. “He has said time and time again he is not interested in increasing the income tax for a variety of reasons.”

Last week, Lamont was firm before a business audience in reiterating his commitment to a $15 minimum wage and a paid family and medical leave law, a message the audience did not want to hear.

“You didn’t see him flinch in terms of why believes that’s important,” Flanagan Johnson said. “It’s a bunch of business leaders, and he had just spoken about making Connecticut more attractive to business. And you heard him make the case that, ‘Look, these two things, when done right and when done thoughtfully and done over time, they really can help the business community, because you get to attract and retain really good qualified workers.’ ”

To labor, Lamont is insisting on a four-year timetable to raise the current $10.10 minimum to $15, not the three-year schedule sought by the political left.

Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, the co-chair of the Appropriations Committee, said she appreciated that Lamont was willing to defend those pro-labor positions to a business audience. But she is among the liberals who would like to see a more progressive approach to budget and tax issues.

“The jury’s still out with me about which direction the governor is going. I really do think he’s doing a best faith effort,” she said.

 House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said he can empathize with Lamont being pulled in opposite directions by labor and business.

“Ned and I are comparable in that area. We have friends, especially in organized labor. We try to understand the point of view of the opposition, which is our job as leaders. And if you try to to strike the balance, you find yourself in this weird place with not having fans on either side. They both are mad at you,” Aresimowicz said. “That just means the balance is in the right place.”

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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8 Comments

  1. I’m going to be very curious as to what paid family leave looks like after 5 years or so….

  2. That picture above the article should send chills of sheer terror down the spines of the general Connecticut public.

    Public-sector unions should be illegal.

  3. The Governor realizes that there’s a limit to how much he can tax the rich. The totality of taxation in this state (income tax, estate tax, sales taxes and fees, gas tax, tolls, etc) is forcing people and businesses to reevaluate whether they can/should leave Connecticut. Since the state worker class has protection from Democrats, the state deficits will keep ballooning for years to come, with fresh taxation each budget cycle. The state fiscal situation is going to get much worse before it gets better.

    While the “tax the rich” class envy strategy may garner votes, the reality is that this state already has the 2nd highest state/local tax burden in the country (source: Tax Foundation). When enough givers have voted with their feet, these folks, state workers, and the urban poor will be left holding the bag when the state budget blows up.

    1. 100% correct and Gov. Lamont knows it. Unfortunately he will have far more support from Republicans than his own party when it comes to reform. Special interests control Connecticut and they are protected by the Democrat leadership who have proven themselves to be untrustworthy and unable to manage our states finances.

    2. Remember that the absurdly high mill rates in the cities are partly due to less business investment in them and more city/state/non profit properties on their grand lists. I wonder why these cities are dying? Could it be the Democrat stranglehold on them? Lets also remember the degree to which state funding supports the cities- I believe Hartford’s budget is half funded by the state, which just bailed it out from certain bankruptcy. Further, I believe that property tax in Hartford is based on a lower assessed value percentage to offset the high mil rate. Finally, high property tax values in Greenwich are offset by a lower mill rate, and the inverse is true in cities like Hartford where property values are lower and hence more affordable. And of course, this only applies to homeowners; renters don’t pay property tax on houses they live in.

      Regarding vehicle taxes and per a 2018 Patch article, it looks like the Hartford vehicle mil rate is 32 and Greenwich is 13. So the $75K car is taxed at $975. Don’t like your mill rate? Move to another town. I actually think property tax on any car is absurd since the state already got 6.35% tax on the purchase of it.

      A $5M earner pays $349,500 in state income tax at the 6.99% effective rate. Unlike Federal tax, CT state tax is largely based on AGI so deductions are limited. I’m actually glad we have these folks around as they pay a substantial portion of state income taxes. Tax them too much and they’ll just move their domicile to Florida and poof, there goes the CT tax revenue.

      You can keep taxing the rich but eventually you’ll run out of other people’s money to fund your Connecticut progressive utopia. We’re already circling the fiscal drain trying to keep cities afloat and state worker retirements funded. Our fiscal problems are only going to get worse.

  4. I would also add the federal government to that mix – remember it was their agencies that were buying the paper from Wall Street when they should have refused the garbage mortgaages forcing the banks to deny more applications. However, if they did refuse that would mean increased home buyer requirements like a minimum of 20% down and far higher debt to equity ratios standards. Barney Frank and Chris Dodd made sure to keep those doors financing open and they did it legally – it was a stupid thing to do for the long-term but most politicians do not think about the unintended consequences as long as it gets them votes. Look no further than most of CT major cities for proof of that.

  5. It’s such a pleasure to have a politician who isn’t easily categorized, who actually looks at issues in a nuanced way, who doesn’t reflexively toe a party or ideological line. To call a policy “progressive” doesn’t mean it’s best for the State. And unions don’t necessarily represent a progressive view; they represent their members, as they should. Their objective is to protect and increase the benefits that flow to their members. The overriding issue for CT is the underfunded pension plans for State employees. Taxing the wealthy will not improve the business climate in CT, and an improvement in business activity ultimately will improve life for all CT workers and pay for those union pensions. Apparently, the new Governor understands that. And thank goodness he does.

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