Gov. Ned Lamont today used his first cabinet meeting and lots and lots of hyphens to publicize a plan to transform state government into a cross-agency, data-driven, user-friendly, cost-effective and outcome-obsessed model of streamlined efficiency and private-sector discipline.
“It’s my goal to make Connecticut one of the nation’s most cost-efficient, data-informed, results-driven states,” said Lamont, the founder and former owner of a small cable-television company. “Taxpayers deserve it and businesses expect it.”
David Wilkinson was introduced as the state’s new chief performance officer. He was the director the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation under President Barack Obama, the commissioner of early childhood under Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, and the leader of a technology group for the Lamont transition.
The new effort, Wilkinson told the governor and agency heads, is “an opportunity to generate more value with the dollars we currently spend.”
Democratic legislators are proposing a tax increase on the investment income of Connecticut’s wealthiest households to help close the state budget deficit, putting them on a collision course with a Democratic governor opposed to raising any tax rate.
This proposal is expected to enjoy strong support from leaders in the House and Senate’s Democratic majorities, but Gov. Ned Lamont has said he opposes any effort to raise the income tax, arguing it would weaken Connecticut’s economy and drive wealthy taxpayers from the state.
“I’ve been pretty strict on not raising tax rates,” Lamont reiterated Thursday. “Everybody comes in and goes, ‘C’mon on gov, it’s just a half a point. It’s just another point. It’s not that big a deal.’ But it’s the fourth time in 12 years or something like that.”
The proposed levy would apply 2 percentage points only to income from capital gains and only to households already paying the top state income tax of 6.99 percent. This applies to single filers earning more than $500,000 annually and couples topping $1 million.
Following a now-familiar script, the General Assembly today split along partisan lines to approve another of the dozen or so collective bargaining agreements or arbitration awards that could come before lawmakers in 2019.
Once rare, legislative votes on labor deals are the new normal. One of the Republican victories in a budget agreement struck two years ago is a requirement that all labor deals come to votes in the House and Senate. In the past, they took effect in the absence of a vote to reject.
By votes of 84-62 in the House and 19-17 in the Senate, legislators approved a contract that accepts six tax attorneys in the Department of Revenue Services as union members and grants them general wage increases of 3.5 percent in each of the next two years.
“We simply can’t afford it,” said House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby.
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 today.
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.”
Gov. Ned Lamont and Republicans crystallized two things today about the contentious issue of returning highway tolls to Connecticut after an absence of 35 years: Lamont cannot yet definitively answer important questions about the pricing, location and frequency of tolls — and it wouldn’t matter to the GOP, even if he could.
In back-to-back news conferences, the gulf between the governor and Republican minority could not have been greater, reinforcing that if Lamont succeeds in winning authorization to establish tolls on Route 15 and Interstates 84, 91 and 95, Republicans are resolved to brand them as the product of a Democratic governor and Democratic majorities in the General Assembly.
Lamont and the Democratic co-chairs of the legislature’s Transportation Committee today tried to reframe the issue in terms of specific rush-hour commutes, assuming 4.4 cents a mile with discounts for state drivers: from New Haven to Hartford on 91, $1.72; from Stamford to New Haven on 95, $1.80; from Danbury to Waterbury on 84, $1.28.
The governor complained that Republicans, who have been assisted by a grassroots campaign and conservative talk radio hosts in mobilizing public opinion against a proposal he rolled out in February, have created the impression he wants a tolling gantry at the end of every street.
Connecticut cities and towns could face as much as $24 million in increased costs by 2022 if lawmakers raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, estimates from state analysts show.
The nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis also warned that the wage hike could add nearly $7 million in expenses to child care providers who participate in the state’s Care4Kids program.
Meanwhile, municipal advocates cautioned that unless legislators are prepared to bolster state aid and carve out some new exceptions to the minimum wage standard, the increase would exacerbate problems for already lean local budgets.
“Municipalities only have a couple of options,” said Betsy Gara, executive director of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns. “They can increase taxes or cut services. There is no Door No. 3.”
East Windsor — Gov. Ned Lamont today unveiled a series of proposals to reduce bureaucracy and make it easier for businesses to work with the state.
Lamont, who made the announcement at Infoshred, a local document shredding firm that holds the contract to dispose of sensitive state documents, said his initiative would eliminate thousands of unnecessary forms the state must process annually.
“With fresh eyes, an aggressive approach, and collaboration, we can modernize state government the way it should be,” said Lamont, who made the announcement standing before two huge rectangular blocks of shredded paper. “It is too difficult to navigate through our agencies — it slows down our employees and our businesses.
“State government needs to embrace change and be willing to take responsible risks to move into the future,” he added. “The status quo is not good enough.”
A bill that would legalize recreational marijuana and erase the criminal records of people who have committed low-level drug offenses — the second piece in a package of cannabis-related legislation — today cleared a key committee over the objections of lawmakers who fear the change will make it easier for children to get the drug.
Although the measure would ban the sale of marijuana to people younger than 21, several members of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee argued that legalizing it would make it more enticing and available to children.
“We are telling our youth: ‘It’s not that bad, go ahead and try it,’” said Sen. Dan Champagne, R-Vernon, who voted against the bill. “Heroin users, cocaine users, you talk to a lot of them, there’s always some drug they used before that. … Marijuana is one of those drugs that jump-starts it.”
“We should be in the business of passing laws that keep people safe,” he said. “Marijuana is not going to keep anybody safe.”
Lawmakers voted today to advance the first of a package of bills that would legalize recreational marijuana, a step they lauded as necessary to begin upending decades of inequality in arrests and convictions against minority communities.
The bill approved by the legislature’s General Law Committee would lay the foundation for a marijuana industry in Connecticut. Among other things, it would establish a licensing process for growers, manufacturers and retailers of the drug.
But the flashpoint in today’s debate came over the issue of equity incentives for people in areas where high rates of pot-related arrests have occurred.
The measure would give minority entrepreneurs advantages that include a lower fee structure and priority in the application process.