Ned Lamont at a campaign forum in April 2018 with Jonathan Harris, who now is helping pass the administration’s legislative package. mark Pazniokas / ctmirror.org
Ned Lamont at a campaign forum in April 2018 with Jonathan Harris, who now is helping pass the administration’s legislative package. mark Pazniokas / ctmirror.org

The administration of Gov. Ned Lamont was ready to put a tumultuous week behind it Thursday night, downplaying a pointed rebuke by a legislative committee the previous day and looking forward to votes on substantive issues next week by the General Assembly.

The pace of the legislative session will quicken next week, when the House and Senate are scheduled to debate and vote on bills Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. A measure to raise the minimum wage to $15 over four years is among the bills likely to come up.

Ryan Drajewicz, the governor’s chief of staff, struck a conciliatory tone in talking about the administration’s fight over taxes and borrowing with the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee and its co-chair, Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford.

The committee voted 46-4 on Wednesday for Fonfara’s proposal to give control of borrowing to the legislature, a signal of lawmakers’ willingness to fight Lamont over the governor’s insistence that the state’s annual borrowing of $2 billion be cut by $700 million.

“I think that when you get into negotiations as critical as the ones that are confronting the state, there’s always going to be disagreements,” Drajewicz said. “I think that’s natural. I think that’s expected. And I think that’s necessary.”

“I think that when you get into negotiations as critical as the ones that are confronting the state, there’s always going to be disagreements. I think that’s natural. I think that’s expected. And I think that’s necessary.”

Ryan Drajewicz
Gov. Lamont’s Chief of Staff

Drajewicz said the administration’s setbacks in the finance committee were evidence of “growing pains” by an administration that took office four months ago and a reminder “that relationships matter” at the State Capitol.

Ryan Drajewicz mark Pazniokas / ctmirror.org

Fonfara, who was first elected to the General Assembly in 1986 on a ticket led by Gov. William A. O’Neill. was less sanguine about the state of the evolving relationship between a Democratic governor from the world of business and a legislature controlled by Democrats.

“With some exceptions, there’s not much understanding of the legislative process by this administration, even as we’re heading to the finish line,” Fonfara said. “I haven’t seen a lot changing that, and frankly I don’t think — this is my observation — there’s a lot of respect there for the legislature.”

Drajewicz said the administration recognizes the need to augment its legislative liaison operation by bringing in Jonathan Harris, a former state senator who now serves as an undersecretary of policy and management.

The session ends at midnight on June 5, and there are only 19 session days scheduled before the constitutional adjournment deadline. Fonfara is expected to be among the leaders and committee co-chairs to begin meetings next week with the administration.

Fonfara is hardly the only political actor causing problems for Lamont. Progressive lawmakers have bucked the governor, successfully pushing the finance committee to approve a surcharge on capital gains taxes paid by single taxpayers with incomes of $500,000 and couples with $1 million.

“With some exceptions, there’s not much understanding of the legislative process by this administration, even as we’re heading to the finish line.”

Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford

Lamont is opposed to raising the income tax, but he has not yet publicly indicated if he would veto a tax package with a capital gains increase.

“Yet again we are seeing the governor get pushed around by members of his own party,” said Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven. “Is he going to take a stand on anything, or is he going to continue operating in fear of Democratic legislators?”

While Fonfara faults Lamont for unilaterally curtailing borrowing, even for projects already approved by the legislature, he agrees with Fasano that Lamont is inviting trouble by sending “mixed signals” on his revenue proposals, thus creating a political vacuum.

“We’re going to fill a vacuum,” Fonfara said of legislators.

Sen. Gary A. Winfield, D-New Haven, said legislators see an administration that is a work in progress after four months in office, a condition that is disconcerting to some Democrats, but still understandable.

“Year one is very difficult,” Winfield said. “The learning curve is humongous.”

House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said the administration cannot be judged on how its budget proposals fared in the committees.

“You can’t really judge a negotiating style based upon the committees,” Ritter said. “The question now is what will be the final product?”

Those talks are expected to begin in earnest next week.

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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7 Comments

  1. Lamont is weak. It looks like he is being eaten alive. With Connecticut’s future in the hands of a bunch of free-spending, regulation-loving legislatures and powerful Unions, I fear that Connecticut is doomed. Lamont is simply no match for them.

    1. Sue Haynie:
      Did you really expect a new Governor without major CT political experience to go head to head with CTs well organized Legislature. Even a long experienced and skilled Gov. Malloy faced major challenges. And in the end is best known for raising taxes several times. Neither candidate for CT Governor had the requisite political experience to be on an equal footing with the Democrat controlled Legislature. So it looks like “past is prologue” here. It’s all about new and higher taxes resolving the CT billion dollar Budget deficit. What’s surprising is that anyone thought the Budget Deficit could be resolved without major tax hikes.

  2. Senator Fonfara, as a small business owner in the Connecticut hinterland, like the governor, I also have no respect for your legislature and legislators. Your anti business actions speak volumes.

  3. I’d say the taxpayers had a bad week. Again.

    Its all fun and games in Connecticut until Democrats run out of taxpayers to fund their tax and spend agenda. That day is coming.

  4. Obviously, the bulk of the legislature — by years of watching the fortunes of the state as a whole, including their districts, sacrificed for the maintenance of Gold Coast socioeconomic primacy under Gold Coast Dan — is now using all of the tools in their legislative tool chest, to prevent Gold Coast Ned and his Goldman-Sachs portfolio of department commissioners and top advisers, from turning the state into a risk-free, third-world-resources management hedge-fund investment opportunity for themselves and their cronies. They already have DEEP and the regulated utilities inflating their retirement funds and family fortunes; now they want a transportation authority and tolls, etc., to add to that, even as it would continue to suppress statewide development and funnel our future and wherewithal to the Stamford-Greenwich/SW-wedge. Good for Senator Fanfara, et al., finally (maybe too late) trying to pry control of the state economy away from the Gold Coast Oligarchy!…

  5. At one time, CT elected Republican Governors to rein in the legislature. Given the size of Democrats’ majorities, they weren’t very effective, but they appeared to try.
    Governor Lamont appears an agreeable individual who didn’t realize how determined the legislature and a lot of organizations (such as the hospitals) are to obtain money from the state.
    Even legislation apparently not affecting the state directly will probably end up being costly.
    For example, how much will expenses rise as a result of the likely minimum wage increase? The state is already paying non-profits to do jobs once accomplished by state employees. Because the non-profits are cheaper. The legislature has already responded to complaints about stagnant wages used to hold down expenses because the state has restricted reimbursements. A minimum wage increase is very likely to have significant repercussions.
    Another example, the likely FMLA legislation is supposedly paid by a 0.5% payroll tax. What happens when/if that proves insufficient? Will the payroll tax be increased or will the state make a contribution or both?
    So the state’s current deficits are likely to increase. Only the rainy day fund is available to deal with revenue problems without rancor. Once that’s gone, the revenue increases are likely to be considered severe.
    The Governor’s intent may be to meliorate these future problems. But he hasn’t shown much intent to accept conflict, and his ability to deny additional spending is obviously limited.

  6. No surprise here. We’re seeing a new Governor without experience in CT politics interfacing with a well focused and well co-ordinated Legislature that for many years has favored higher taxes rather than cut outlays to resolve the billion dollar CT Budget deficit. With all eyes focused on raising new revenues there’s not much interest in tackling the real enchilada – how do we jump start CT’s decade long stagnant economy. Increasingly the “smart monies” are wondering whether CT will face another decade’s stagnant economy.

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