Now that they’re no longer on the ballot to be Connecticut’s next governor, Republican Oz Griebel and Democrat Ned Lamont agreed Monday that labor concessions and tax increases will likely be in the state’s future if anyone expects to close the nearly $3.5 million budget deficit.
Lamont and Griebel, who met for a panel discussion at Central Connecticut State University, spoke candidly about the budget crisis that either Democrat Dan Malloy or Republican Tom Foley will be facing if elected governor on Nov. 2.
Lamont said he would sit down with the employee unions in good faith and talk about freezing the salaries and raising employee contributions to healthcare. He added that the state can save millions of dollars by using technology to create efficiencies and, as a result, create opportunities to shift manpower to places where it is needed more.
“Look, I got ahead of myself in the campaign and I talked about the fact that about a third of our budget is related to labor costs and that we’re not going to be able to solve this budget without real labor concessions, and that’s not such a great message in a Democratic primary,” he said.
Lamont said state pension plans also need to be evaluated.
“I hate to say it but for the next generation of employees, the days of being able to retire at 55, all in, are over,” he said.
Lamont said he thought Malloy was in the best position to negotiate with labor unions but when asked by moderator John Dankosky of WNPR whether he believed Malloy had made any ironclad concessions to the unions, he said only, “I hope not.”
Lamont also praised Griebel for refusing to take a pledge not to raise taxes during the primaries, a stance Griebel maintained Monday but said that any increase in revenue must be accompanied by spending reform.
“If you were to convince the business community and you, as individual taxpayers, that we’re serious about keeping spending flat, then maybe we could all tolerate an increase in revenue — a surcharge, an increase in income tax, whatever it might be,” Griebel said.
Both former-candidates agreed that spending reform is needed and both cautioned against “across the board” cuts to spending and services.
“There are serious services here that have to be delivered,” Griebel said.
Lamont also noted that in a recession many of the state’s social services become more important than ever.
“It sounds very doable,” Lamont said of holding state spending flat, but argued that during these “incredibly tough economic times” Medicaid spending has increased along with crime and mental health problems.
“When we talk about holding the line on spending, remember that in a recession, there’s more need for government services than ever before.”
Griebel and Lamont were also asked to give a bit of advice to the candidates in the governor’s race.
“Lay off the caffeine,” Lamont quipped. “They’ve been so harsh on each other.”
The next governor will have to deal with serious problems, Lamont said adding that that person will need to be able to work with their opposition in order to resolve the issues.
If elected, stay focused and encourage the legislature to do the same, Griebel said, noting that the state’s resources frequently get tied up on less important issues like changing the blue laws “as if that’s going to change the face of mankind.” An example of a blue law is the state’s prohibition on the sale of alcohol on Sundays.
“Stay focused on this budget so the municipalities, which have to go through town meetings and referendums, will at least have a shot at knowing what they’re going to get for municipal aid and schooling,” he said, adding that towns need to regionalize services in order to make the most of state aid.
“One of the hooks here, one of the things I think the governor needs to do, is start getting our municipalities to not only think regionally but to act regionally,” he said.