Last summer, after George Floyd’s murder sent a shock wave through our nation, people across Connecticut took to the streets to demand an end to systemic racism and inequality in our state. Residents in urban, rural, and suburban communities spoke in one unified voice demanding that in Connecticut, Black Lives Matter. This is a call for the liberation of Black folks — for the removal of structural, institutional and economic violence that has thwarted the progress of Black people and the progress of our state.
The truth is that Connecticut, as one of the wealthiest states in the wealthiest country in the world, has the resources we need to make change. Another truth is that Gov., Ned Lamont has a moral obligation in this year’s budget to seriously address the deep damage that systemic racism, classism, segregation, over-policing, and underfunding has done to Connecticut’s Black, brown, low-income, and working class communities. Fortunately, he doesn’t have to do it alone.
Recovery For All, a statewide coalition of labor, community, and faith organizations representing hundreds of thousands of people of all faiths, races, classes, sexual and gender identities, stands ready in our long-term mission to eliminate systemic inequalities and rebuild a better Connecticut. As a member of the Recovery For All coalition, we at Bridgeport Generation Now are calling on Lamont to join us by negotiating a bold equitable budget that includes progressive tax revenue. Together, we can invest in critical services in working class communities and reverse decades of austerity and divestment.
It is no secret that over the years, the gaps between the owning class and the working class in Connecticut have consistently widened. Since the financial crisis of ‘08, some Connecticut residents have benefitted from a large inflation in the price of assets, while many others have seen their wages stagnate. Those in our state who own assets — like stocks, real estate, and fancy paintings — have seen their wealth increase in value enormously. Yet even as wages for our working class residents remained low, Connecticut kept cutting funding for essential community needs like education, mental health services, reentry services, and healthcare. For almost 20 years, Connecticut has systematically created the haves and the have nots.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated this deep divide. As disturbing as it may seem, during a global pandemic our wealthiest residents have continued to see huge increases in the values of their assets. All while many workers lost their jobs and their livelihoods. All while many more frontline “essential workers” were asked to take on extremely high risks to themselves, their families, and their communities without a strong safety net.
We have yet to see Governor Lamont’s courage and moral compass on this issue. Like the Wizard of Oz, he wants us to pay no attention to these deep inequities behind the curtain and focus all our attention on federal aid. However, while we are grateful that the Biden administration and Congress have sent much needed federal and education dollars to our state, temporary, one-time relief money does not — and will not — fix our broken tax system.
The fact is, a status quo budget means Connecticut will remain one of the most unequal and inequitable states in the country. We need a budget that starts to eliminate racial and economic disparities, makes bold investments in sustainable economic growth and closing opportunity gaps, provides real tax relief to struggling families, and reduces income inequality by making the tax code more progressive.
President Biden understands that one-time federal funds cannot be the driver of economic recovery and racial equity, which is why this week he announced his plan to increase taxes on the wealthy and corporations. Governor Lamont — as one of the first high profile Democrats to endorse the-candidate Biden — must also seize this moment, follow the President’s lead, and be the change he wishes to see in our state.
The time is now for Governor Lamont and the state legislature to work together to transform our state budget with racial and economic equity at its forefront. Economic and racial injustice won’t disappear with a vaccine. Funding our state’s future requires a bold, courageous approach.
Callie Gale Heilmann and Gemeem Davis are Co-Directors of Bridgeport Generation Now, a grassroots member-based organization that builds collective power by strengthening civic engagement in ourselves and our communities.