Sworn into office for a second four-year term, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont on Wednesday called on state legislators to pass a ‘meaningful middle class tax cut,’ saying it’s time for the state to refocus on economic growth and opportunity now that the emergency of the pandemic is fading and years of state fiscal crises have ended.
The wealthy former cable entrepreneur, whose first term heavily focused on responding to COVID-19, urged lawmakers in an upbeat speech to work together in the coming months to ‘maintain fiscal discipline’ and ultimately make the state more affordable after years of what he called ‘unfilled promises.’
‘Connecticut is moving from rescue to recovery, investing in our future, in your future, starting with good-paying jobs, and you keeping more of what you earn,’ Lamont told a joint session of the General Assembly, shortly after his inaugural ceremony.
He said the next four years should focus less on emergency programs like the ones Connecticut enacted during the pandemic to help businesses and individuals stay financially afloat. Rather, he called for growing the state’s economy to create ‘a ladder to opportunity for everyone regardless of background or zip code.’
Lamont’s reference to fiscal discipline in Wednesday’s speech likely referred to an anticipated debate this session over whether to continue soon-to-expire fiscal controls enacted four years ago in a bipartisan budget. Those controls were a promise to the state’s bond holders that any excess surplus funds will be used to spend down state pension debt after the state’s budget reserve fund is fully funded, which it currently is at $3.3 billion.
Connecticut’s current fiscal year budget is expected to end June 30 with a $1 billion surplus.
There is already bipartisan interest to improve affordability in Connecticut during this year’s five-month-long legislative session, including calls to address high energy and housing prices, cut taxes and help blunt the effect of inflation.
‘We have the ability to help our vulnerable and our working and middle class families in these unprecedented times,’ said Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford. ‘And we must do exactly that: work for them to bring them the help they need and so deservedly have earned.’
While offering no details, Lamont described his proposed ‘meaningful middle-class tax cut’ as ‘a reduction in tax rates, which the state can afford and makes your life more affordable.’ The Democrat is expected to release his budget proposal next month.
Lamont, who turned 69 on Tuesday, took the oath of office at the Gov. William A. O’Neill State Armory, accompanied by his wife Annie. The noontime ceremony was held shortly before his State of the State Address before a joint session of the newly minted General Assembly, which gained an even larger majority of Democrats after the November election. Lamont’s running mate, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, who presides over the state Senate, also was sworn in for a second term.
In a brief address after his swearing-in, Lamont referred to the challenges he faced guiding the state through the pandemic, as well as the challenges his predecessor former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who was on hand for the inauguration, faced when the mass shooting shooting occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Lamont said he learned the job of governor is ‘to get through it, think about Connecticut as our family and work together as one.’
While the state Capitol building was fully open for the first time since the pandemic, with lawmakers’ family members filling the House and Senate chambers, Lamont’s inaugural celebrations were more muted. Space in the armory was limited and Lamont was not feted with a parade. He did receive a 19-gun salute and was scheduled to be the star at the planned inaugural ball, to be held across from the state Capitol at the Bushnell Performing Arts Center.
Before he gets on the dance floor, as Lamont promised state legislators, he was scheduled to appear in New London with U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and members of the congressional delegation Wednesday afternoon to mark $158 million in federal infrastructure funds approved to speed up repairs to the Gold Star Memorial Bridge on Interstate 95.
Lamont joked that he asked Buttigieg if he could come to Connecticut on another day, given his busy schedule. But Lamont ultimately agreed to make the appearance, given the large investment.
‘A hundred and sixty million dollars. I said, ‘I’m there,” Lamont said with a laugh.
Besides Lamont, the state’s all-Democratic contingent of constitutional officers were scheduled to be sworn into office. It also marked the opening day of the new legislative session, where lawmakers took the oath in their respective chambers. It marked a much warmer ceremony, both in sentiment and temperature, compared to the 2021 opening day. Two years ago, due to social distancing rules, lawmakers were sworn into office outside the state Capitol in freezing weather as hundreds of protesters, many upset with COVID-19 restrictions, waved signs and angrily chanted ‘you work for us.’