Gov. Ned Lamont and Lt. Gov Susan Bysiewicz
Gov. Ned Lamont and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz at the head of the table with some of their transition committee policy leaders. Jacqueline Rabe Thomas / ctmirror.org

New Britain — Franklin Delano Roosevelt won passage of 15 laws and outlined significant portions of the New Deal in his first hundred days in office, a marking period that has since bedeviled presidents and governors. Gov. Ned Lamont isn’t comparing himself to FDR, but he nonetheless invited a 100-day evaluation Tuesday.

Lamont and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz reunited with policy leaders from their transition team in a ballroom at Central Connecticut State University, where Lamont taught as an adjunct professor after selling his cable-television company. His press office billed the event as a roundtable review of the administration’s accomplishments over its first hundred days.

The table wasn’t round, the review perfunctory.

“I just think we wanted to say what we tried to do in this first hundred days, how we tried to change the tone in the Capitol, how we tried to change our working relationship — labor, business, the diversity of our administration,” Lamont said. “It was a state that was a little bit fractured. I’m trying to bring people together. I think we made a start on that in the first hundred days.”

The governor, a Democrat who took office on Jan. 9, has largely populated his new administration. He will reach the hundred-day milestone on Thursday.

The last of the agency head jobs to be filled are at the Department of Education, a post technically filled by the Board of Education on the recommendation of the governor, and the Department of Social Services.

Lamont said he has made a recommendation to the school board, declining to share the name. He suggested he has or is about to make an offer for someone to run DSS, an agency that handles a significant chunk of the state budget.

“I want somebody extraordinary there. I look at how big healthcare costs, in particular Medicaid, are to our budget. I need somebody who knows that well, and  we have somebody in mind,” Lamont said. Then he laughed and added, “Now, I gotta see if they have us in mind.”

Lamont won a fight over the confirmation of David Lehman, whose role in the 2008 financial services meltdown as a Goldman Sachs partner was an issue, as his special adviser on the economy and his commissioner of economic and community development. 

He has won passage of no legislation of lasting impact, which is hardly noteworthy. The Connecticut General Assembly rarely tackles major bills until May, and much of any governor’s agenda is tied to the budget, which cannot be passed until the state evaluates its tax revenues at the end of April.

Lamont enjoyed one early legislative victory: Just weeks after taking office, he brokered a bipartisan deal to help federal workers going unpaid due to the government shutdown. At his urging, the legislature passed a bill pledging the state as the backer of loans from private financial institutions to the employees. The shutdown soon ended.

But major initiatives such as a plan to stabilize transportation funding with a comprehensive system of highway tolls and greater regionalization of back-office education and municipal functions quickly flamed into partisan issues. With his tolls proposal, Lamont reneged on a promise to impose highway tolls only on trucks.

“At the end of the day, he is trying to put a good face on what has been an utter disaster,” said J.R. Romano, the state chairman of the Republican Party.

Lamont’s leadership style — he talks about a big table and an open door — is both welcoming and alarming to legislators. 

Lawmakers welcome a more congenial approach after eight years of dealing with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who typically took a hard line in negotiations. But legislative leaders, particularly in the House, need to play off a governor’s position in negotiating the final details of controversial bills

Gov. Ned Lamont on Tuesday at CCSU. ctmijrror.org

Lamont has yet to fully define what he will and won’t accept in legislating a paid family and medical leave program. The governor has set some parameters — it would be funded by a half-percent payroll tax on employees and provide 12 weeks of coverage. He has expressed a preference for a privately managed program, a stance opposed by public-sector unions.

“What I have said is I don’t want to rule anything out,” he said. “I want to manage this in a way that has the highest quality at the least cost to the taxpayers and give people confidence the benefits are going be there when they’re needed.”

Whatever the legislature passes, it must be actuarially sound — producing a reliable benefit for a tax that does not exceed one-half of one percent. Lamont sees that as a bright line legislators know they should not cross.

“So I’m being pretty strict,” Lamont said. “I like to do progressive things in a conservative way that you can count on.”

Lamont said he also has been clear on taxes — he will not accept an increase in income tax rates, but he would raise more revenue by expanding the base of goods and services that are subject to the 6.35 percent sales tax.

“My number one priority is to get an honestly balanced budget on time that begins to deal with our long-term issues and gives people confidence our commitments are going to be held,” he said. “Number two, I’ve got to fix this transportation system. I heard that from every business leader I talk to. It’s driving jobs out of the state.”

Lamont said he remains convinced that the only solution is tolls.

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 wonder what universe this Governor lives in. His campaign promise of tolls only on out of state trucks, was not true. His promise to the state workers to protect them, was not true. His promise to protect the seniors also not true. His promise to protect towns from unexpected changes in state revenue was also not true. It seems the only plan he has of getting the state out of trouble is more taxes on many things that were never taxed before. Revenue from tolls, pot, gambling and drugs. What happened to the spending cuts he promised during his campaign? What happened to all of these campaign promises of his?

    1. Promises is how elections are won. The “realities” are quite different. And the billion dollar plus State budget deficit is the “reality”. Short of substantially reducing the CT public Union component of the State budget the Governor has only one option – raising taxes. We may disagree on which ones ought to be raised. But that’s secondary to the need to raise revenues. The first quarter employment decline ought confirm our difficulty.

  2. Seems to me, the main reason both businesses and people are fleeing CT., are the exorbitant taxes and cost of doing business here. Tolls and more taxes will only heighten the exodus.

    1. High local and State taxes largely reflect high salaries/benefits received by State and local public Union employees. So far there’s no major support in the Legislature or the 169 towns and cities for reducing public Union salaries/benefits. That leaves the Governor with but one real option – reducing the numbers of public Union employees on the State’s payroll that comprises about 40% of the State Budget. Whether the State Legislature would support such a staff reduction remains unknown. But its unlikely such a staff reduction even if enacted would be large enough to substantially reduce the imperative of increasing State revenues through more taxes to resolve the billion dollar plus Budget deficit.

      The 169 towns and cities have more flexibility. For example, Norwalk and Danbury are similarly sized. But Danbury provides municipal services at 30% less per capita than Norwalk. So far there’s no pressure in Norwalk to seek parity with Danbury.

      The point here is that high State and local taxes are well recognized as a casual factor in CT’s economic difficulties. But lowering taxes is far more difficult than most realize. And so far the Legislature is looking for additional taxes to fund the billion dollar plus State Budget deficit. That’s an awkward position for both the Legislature and the Governor.

  3. This Governor is off to a very weak start and is wasting his energy and political capital on unpopular, slippery-slope issues, such as tolls, that obscure the real, underlying issues (e.g., economic development/transportation in the case of tolls), even as he fails to come up with alertnatives/“plan B’s”. Most importantly, he has neither formulated a real vision for the state that could propel his issue efforts. In the case of tolls, he has not presented a vision for economic development of the state and a companion transportation-initiative plan. In this specific area of his vision-less, planless, legislative efforts, he makes it clear that he is simply looking to maintain the status quo in Connecticut and keep Connecticut development focused on certain favored geographic areas that demand a commuting, toll-paying worforce…
    Truly, in all regards, Ned Lamont is looking more and more like a more genteel version of the ineffectual Gold Coast guy that he just succeeded. Nothing much new here, except that Connecticut is reaching a social/labor crisis as the cost of living continues to rise in the face of a dearth of living-wage jobs, and generally shrinking Connecticut job market on the background of a widening income-education gap between the regions (the Gold Coast and the rest of the state, and suburbs/cities).
    Ned is showing real, early political weakness and ineptitude over a thinly-veiled attitude of plutocratic arrogance…
    Look for a continued exodus of working-age people from the state and more dysfunction in shrinking cities on a backdrop of a failing, rudderless Connecticut economy and unpopular state government…
    Ned needs a lot of help, quickly, and, like Dan Malloy, is unlikely to reach out to the people and Connecticut institutions or federal government for that help, much less utilize it if presented…
    We’re in trouble!

  4. We have no prior example of a post-War State with a decade long stagnant economy/employment level during a vigorous national economic expansion that ever sharply rebounded and continued to do so with a new Governor taking the helm. That absence ought lend a degree of humility if not caution here when criticizing the Governor.

    Second we underestimate the decades long institutional difficulties facing CT. Namely a mostly suburban economy spread over 169 small towns and modest cities. Lack of modern cities with major hi-tech computer industries. Lack of world class hi-tech STEM universities. And a very high local and State tax burden that reflects broad public support for paying good salaries/benefits to State and Municipal public Unions. Plus the burden of our severely depressed larger cities that never transformed from their WWII pre-eminence.

    None of these institutional difficulties can be readily resolved. Each requires years if not decades to remediate. Sadly we educate our youngsters – our human capital – who then migrate to States offering much better opportunities.

    So what to recommend ? Holding the line on State taxes would be a good first step. That’s both within the Governor’s prerogative and would demonstrate there’s a new appreciation of our long standing difficulties of a decade long stagnant economy.

    1. We have excellent universities in Connecticut, with high-ranking STEM degree areas… Our problem is not (lack of) educational or labor assets, or even transportation assets. It’s skewed, predjudiced economic-develop vision (really, a lack thereof), “served” by prejudiced/unenlightened policy and leadership… You say yourself “…Sadly we educate our youngsters – our human capital – who then migrate to States offering much better opportunities…” so you contradict your contention that it is lack of a trained workforce that is one of the great factors in our failure to thrive. A little humility in writing off Connecticut’s comparative advantages to other states, as well as a willingness to recognize inept leadership (despite elitist credentials) would be in order…

      1. Suppose we accept your argument about excellent CT universities. Then a decade long stagnant CT economy/employments levels would suggest “excellent universities” by themselves are not a sufficient condition for a vigorous CT State economy. We could look at Yale – well recognized as one of the world’s great universities – and New Haven, a long severely depressed City and reach a sufficient condition. We could also ask why in a State with a dozen if not more prominent private universities we ought fund UCONN so generously whose grads mostly leave CT for better opportunities rather than boost public education in our severely depressed major cities to create a skilled labor force attractive to new industries/investors.

        CT remains a troubled State not because its 10% Gold Coast residents are not doing well. But because CT has roughly 1/3 rd of its residents living in our major cities with few opportunities for good jobs, housing and schools. To get CT’s economy growing again we ought ask what can we do to boost employment in our major cities many of whom live at or below poverty levels. Monies spent on higher education isn’t likely the answer. We ought focus our efforts on creating good jobs with associated skill sets for those bottom third of our State’s residents.

        That requires a new focus on rebuilding our depressed cities. Both Bridgeport and New Haven have the requisite physical assets in terms of utilities, industrial harbors, transportation access. What’s lacking are firms seeing attractive opportunities with sufficient State subsidies to bring industries and employment to these cities.

        The sad CT reality is that for the last 70 years since the War our once prominent CT cities have fallen in to disrepair. With roughly 1/3rd the State’s population that’s not a good omen for reinvigorating CT’s decade long economy. Best I can judge neither the CT Legislature nor State government has recognized CT Economics 101 – growth occurs in cities. And ours are poorly suited for growth.

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