NEW BRITAIN, CT — Two gubernatorial candidates were unwilling Wednesday to make promises that they were uncertain they’d be able to keep to a group of organizations focused on improving the lives of young children and families.
Staring down a two-year, $4.6 billion state budget deficit kept Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont and petitioning candidate Oz Griebel from overpromising anything during a forum at Central Connecticut State University.
Republican Bob Stefanowski was invited but did not attend.
At one point during his remarks, Lamont asked for a brief timeout.
“I’m inheriting a $2.5 billion deficit and I’ve got to be careful about overpromising,” Lamont said. “People have been overpromising in this state for an awful long time.” He said he’s not going to eliminate the personal or the corporate income tax like Stefanowski has promised to do and “gut 60 percent of our budget. That is a fraud.”
He said what he is going to do is “tell you the truth.” He said they are going to maintain their tax base and “find new creative ways that we can deliver services at less cost.”
Griebel tried to explain to the audience that 40 percent of the budget the next governor will inherit is already committed to debt service, pension liabilities, and payroll.
“The most important thing we do is to do the least amount of harm to municipalities, agencies, and education,” Griebel said. “The only way you close a $4.6 billion operating deficit to be simplistic about it is you raise a lot of taxes or you cut a lot of services, or you do some combination of the two. Our goal is to do the minimum of the latter.”
But Stefanowski’s tax cutting message seems to be resonating at least with older voters. An AARP poll released earlier Wednesday found Stefanowski with a one-point lead over Lamont. Griebel received 4 percent.
A Quinnipiac University poll in August found a majority of voters don’t believe the personal income tax can be cut, but that hasn’t stopped Stefanowski from making it his central campaign pledge.
Earlier in the forum, Lamont told the panel asking questions that, “Given the nature of the fiscal crisis we’re confronting I’m doing everything I can to at least maintain the core functions we have and do no harm.”
For him that starts with early childhood education and education in general.
Asked how he would get rid of the pay gap that exists between pre-school teachers and kindergarten and grade school teachers, Lamont said he would fight for a $15 minimum wage.
“I think that’s the bare minimum,” Lamont said.
Lamont also said he supports paid Family Medical Leave, which has stalled in the General Assembly for the past four years.
“I will un-stall it and I will get it passed,” Lamont said.
He said they would find an “equitable way” to pay for the program and there are a lot of initiatives they can look at as examples.
Griebel, the former head of the MetroHartford Alliance, said he knows there was some opposition from the business lobby to the concept so he would want to understand their opposition first before committing to support the program.
Griebel supports the concept of paid Family Medical Leave, but doesn’t have a plan yet for how to implement it.
The legislation that’s been pitched the past few years would require all private sector employees to contribute 0.5 percent of their paycheck to a fund that they could then use if they needed to take leave. The leave could last up to 12 weeks and the pay would be capped at up to $1,000 per week.
Connecticut is now surrounded by states that offer some version of paid Family Medical Leave.
The candidates were asked what they would do to maintain funding for Care4Kids — the federal and state childcare subsidy program for working families.
Lamont said his Republican opponent, who he didn’t name, would probably say it’s a nice program but not necessary or “I’ll take a pass on this one,” or “it’s all about the economy.”
Without Stefanowski there to say what he would do, Lamont said he wants to push back and remind Stefanowski that early childcare is “all about the economy.”
He said quality early childhood education allows parents to stay in the workforce and contribute to the economy. He said he thinks that as someone who has run a business he’s in the unique position to make the argument about how it’s about the economy because it gives everyone an opportunity to keep working.
Griebel had more questions than answers about the program and why enrollment was halted between August 2016 and August 2017.
He said it all comes back to the budget deficit and Connecticut has to do as little damage as possible in the first two years and start moving toward structural changes, which will shift the equation “so the private sector wants to stay and grow jobs.”
“I know it doesn’t answer your question,” Griebel said. “But these things are all interrelated.”
He said there are a lot of competing interests and they need to figure out in the first few years where the priorities are.
The forum was hosted by the Connecticut Association for Human Services, the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance, Connecticut Voices for Children, All Our Kin, the Connecticut Council on Education Reform, the Connecticut Early Childhood Funders Collaborative, the CT Campaign for Paid Family Leave, and CT Alliance of YMCAs. It is presented through the support of the Connecticut Early Childhood Funders Collaborative, the Partnership for America’s Children, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
In the video below, the discussion begins at the 21:30 mark.