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Lamont to CT legislators: ‘Let’s fix the damn budget’

Gov. Ned Lamont during his State of the State speech Wednesday. (CTMirror.org)

Connecticut’s new governor showed himself Wednesday to be affable, straightforward, optimistic, playful — and even slightly goofy — in his first address to the General Assembly, promising a collaborative approach to rebranding a state down on itself.

Less than two hours after taking office, Gov. Ned Lamont matter-of-factly warned lawmakers that the financially struggling state was teetering “on a knife’s edge,” then assured them he would deliver a budget in six weeks that would bring elusive fiscal stability.

“Let’s fix the damn budget, once and for all!” Lamont said. “You with me?”

Legislators stood, applauding.

Lamont chuckled.

“That’s it,” he said, his voice barely louder than a stage whisper. “Put the pressure on you.”

Exactly how that damn budget will be fixed, well, that is a matter that will wait until some time in February. On this day, the new governor was clearly reveling in the moment.

Lamont, 65, is a Greenwich businessman, a product of Phillips Exeter, Harvard and Yale, and an avowed fan of America’s most ebullient president, Teddy Roosevelt.

Over 23 minutes, Lamont had a bully good time.

He also is a fan of Hamilton, the musical. Lamont grew up in privilege, a man with a family tree in the U.S. that goes back to the time of Alexander Hamilton. But he made repeated references to Hamilton’s scrappiness and his burning hunger to be at the table where history is made, the “room where it happens.”

The line reflected Lamont’s losses in his two previous statewide campaigns for U.S. Senate in 2006 and the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2010.

“Thank you for welcoming me to the room where it happens,” Lamont told the legislators.

A prepared line on voluntarism turned into an impromptu riff on JFK’s inaugural, with Lamont leaning forward and offering a passable Kennedy imitation: Ask not what Connecticut can do for you, ask what you can do for Connecticut. As it turns out, Lamont thinks there’s plenty — from business, labor, politicians, pretty much everyone.

“More on that to come,” he said.

He assured the unions that supported him in the election that he remains committed to collective bargaining, then suggested he might be ready for some bargaining over pension liabilities. “As our liabilities continue to grow faster than our assets, together we have to make the changes necessary to ensure that retirement security is a reality for our younger, as well as our older, state employees, and we’ve got to do that without breaking the bank,” he said.

No hint at how, however.

His task Wednesday was to restate core principles, his approach to Connecticut’s various constituencies, and his expectation for how they all will come together. He warned of difficulties to come, changes he sees necessary in the delivery of government services by the state and municipalities.

“Mayors and first selectmen: Nothing will compromise your feisty independence,” Lamont said, smiling. “But so many services and back-office functions can be delivered at a much lower cost and much more efficiently if they are operated on a shared or regional basis.”

More applause for that line.

Lamont’s wife is Annie Huntress Lamont, a venture capitalist. At times, the governor sounded like a man making a pitch to investors — not expecting to close the deal, but drawing them in, suggesting there was something wonderful to come.

His vision for rebooting the Connecticut economy rests on four legs.

“First, I will take the lead by investing in the first all-digital government, and reverse engineer every transaction from the taxpayer’s shoes. The entry point to Connecticut will be through its digital front door, a one-stop-shop for everything our citizens need. We will be online, not in line,” Lamont said. “It won’t be done overnight, but let’s start today.”

“To attract millennials, top talent and leading companies, Connecticut will need to invest wisely in its urban centers, making them affordable and lively, where families want to live, work and play,” he said.

Third, Lamont signed on to a long-held dream of transportation planners and economic-development advocates, calling for a 30/30/30 rail system. That means 30 minutes from Hartford to New Haven, 30 minutes from New Haven to Stamford, and 30 minutes from Stamford to Grand Central in Manhattan.

He was interrupted with a sustained standing ovation.

The fourth leg is workforce development, ensuring that everyone in Connecticut is equipped to come along for the ride if Lamont ever upgrades his railroad. “It’s going to be an economy that works for everyone.”

The bipartisan applause stopped when Lamont turned to his campaign promises to establish a paid family and medical leave program and to raise the minimum wage in steps to $15, catching up to Massachusetts and New York.

“We’re going to do it responsibly, and we’re going to do it over time,” Lamont said.

Democrats applauded. Republicans sat quietly.

“OK, as one of the first governors who comes from the business world, I know how to get this done,” Lamont said. “My primary objective is to get this economy growing again. How do we extend opportunity for those being left behind?

“Growth!

“What’s the long-term fix to our budget?

“Growth!

“How do we attract the next generation of talent to Connecticut?

“Growth!”

He heard a particularly enthusiastic cheer to his right.

“Somebody liked that,” he said, chuckling again.

Lamont took a breath.

“All right, I’m a new governor. You’re a new legislature,” Lamont said. “What can you expect from me? I’m a straight shooter, an honest broker, and I think I’m a good listener. I know what I know, and what I don’t know. I do have a strong sense of where we need to go and what the people of Connecticut expect from us.”

Democrats, who hold comfortable majorities in both chambers, left happy. Republicans said they want to hear more.

Ned Lamont is finally in the room where it happens. Connecticut will find out in the coming weeks who is ready to sing along.

5 comments

Alan January 12, 2019 at 8:11 am

On his first day in office, Diageo announced that they are leaving Connecticut.
At least three re-elected senators who took over $300K of state campaign finance money to win barely contested seats jumped onto Ned’s payroll for high salaries and HUGE pensions and will cost us all even more because special elections are now needed.
The new AG, William Tong just ordered a HUGE ChevyTahoe (an Escape just was too small) to get to work…and we are banning plastic bags?!!
Ned’s call to act boldly sounds very much like Richard Nixon telling Henry Kissinger to “think big” when it comes to the possible use of nuclear weapons in North Vietnam!
Scary but in the long run empty rhetoric.

Patrick Cooper January 12, 2019 at 10:01 am

@Alan – how appropriate you begin with the Diego move. These unexpected embarrassments are treasure troves if you watch carefully – as the explanations reveal much about our state & local politician’s plan.

News 12 edited their video clip to include commentary by Bob Duff – who lamented “you can’t expect little towns like Norwalk & Stamford to compete with NYC”. He further added that this is why the primary focus is attracting millennials to the region. Begging the chicken or the egg riddle.

This thought process, expanded – answers much. Apparently, Bob and his democratic party faithful believe – if we simply build 20×20 cheepo apartments (at $1,100 a month, hardly), add a hyper-percentage of middle class tax funded affordable apartments, throw in some chin-whisker coffee shops and foodie restaurants (that survive 1 yr), and let them shop at the mall – we’ll attract millennials. Throw in some bike lanes and progressive politics (no-mo plastic bags), and it’s almost utopia. Except there are no jobs. Notwithstanding the largest, best paying employer in Norwalk: City Hall.

Right from the article: “To attract millennials, top talent and leading companies, Connecticut will need to invest wisely in its urban centers, making them affordable and lively, where families want to live, work and play,” he said.

This is the bas-ackwards thinking of Hartford, and as Harry takes his marching orders from them – so it is his vision, also (some coincidence). You see – they believe “Millennial’s” go where there is housing and culture. I think someone, anyone – should talk to a millennial or three – they might challenge that assertion. They might’s say – no, good jobs are the primary attraction, and once we find those – we tend to live nearby.

Hey – we’re about to have loads of mall jobs (security for sure), and Ned is going to make sure you make $15.00 an hour. That means you’ll only need to work about 90+ hours to pay for your 20×20.

Hartford wants to reverse the trend of longtime resident departures, especially and specifically relative to Fairfield County. It is the cash cow – income & sales – that feed’s the beast. No – Hartford absolutely wants to encourage the “gold coast” FF cities and towns to load up the population. Except Greenwich, Darien, New Canaan, Wilton, Westport, Weston & Easton – don’t play. That leaves Stamford, and Norwalk. Bullseye.

Harry’s vision – is to cram as many people into this city as possible, funded primarily by the longtime homeowners who are getting the double sword to the wallet. The values of our home are falling (except in the fugazie revaluation figures used to tax you) – so say’s the real estate professionals. The cost of living in Norwalk increases above the inflation rate, largely to fund the baked-in increases for our public unions. Largest part of the budget – can’t be disputed.

This is why there is ZERO effort by Harry AND the common council to fulfill Harry’s campaign promise of 2013 – to fix planning and zoning. No, instead – he has appointed yes-people who “share his vision” (IE: capitulate to every pre-determined decision about land use). This is why there is a blatant and obvious bias – across the enterprise (city hall, common council, redevelopment agency, commissions, consultants, everyone) – to push for bigger and bigger and more and more fortress apartments. I can see Harry swaying in from of the team in executive session, screaming like Billy Idol – “we want more, more more more more more!!!!).

U-hem Norwalk, except for two things. Millennial’s want good jobs. If they come here – it won’t be for long. Number two – WE are paying for it. Well at least 90% of it.

This Tuesday – January 15th in city hall – there will be a meeting regarding the POCD plan that actually, truly represents a greater input from the city residents than anything presented by city hall or the redevelopment agency. This plan clearly states that Norwalk does not want more Fortress Apartments – but smart development that complements the character of the city, and ads to the quality of life for all residents.

Norwalk is sadly well known for an uninformed, disenfranchised electorate. If you wish to live here longer than 2 years, I highly suggest you find the way to make your voices heard – and get involved in how this city grows. You can watch your elected officials ignore your wishes – so you are then clear on how to vote this November.

Rem January 12, 2019 at 1:12 pm

If you could renew a driver license online that would save tens of thousands of hours of lost productivity statewide. Hope all the independent towns take notice to offer all services digitally.

Alan January 12, 2019 at 5:49 pm

Patrick…well said.
You are absolutely correct with your observations.
I hope for the best and expect the worst. Ned is already off to a rough start.
Build it and they might come, no longer works. When Norwalk’s mall is complete, what will happen to the Stamford mall? And the Norwalk mall is a dinosaur in the making…
It is all so sad, because it could have been so different. And eight years of Malloy were TOTALLY wasted. The legislature is the main culprit and they will be far worse this year than in the past.
Here…take a two cent cut in your gas tax for these tolls,legal pot and sports betting. Even though those are just revenue lies and ultimately further drains on society!

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