Okay, so it’s a new year with a new governor and a new-ish legislature. What should they focus on? Here’s a few specifics I’d love to see this session.
Recession-Proofing the Economy
We’ve been hearing dire warnings from economists for a while now about the potential for the long period of economic growth we’ve been enjoying to turn on us. It’ll happen eventually, growth doesn’t last forever, but it’s all a question of when and how bad.
For us in Connecticut the threat of recession feels unfair because we’ve barely managed to recover from the 2008 crash. Unfortunately, if nothing else changes the next crash may end up being a lot worse.
How do we make the economy a little more resilient?
It’s hard to predict which sectors of the economy will be hardest hit by a recession, but industries that have consistent demand like health care are usually pretty sturdy. Investing in our healthcare system and ensuring we have enough trained workers to meet demand is a smart move.
We may also want to invest in green technology. Climate change doesn’t care about economic cycles, it’ll happen regardless. It will pay to be ready, and building up clean energy and other green industries will pay off in the long run.
There’s also the old standby of infrastructure projects that double as employment programs. Construction work generates much-needed economic activity and also performs necessary tasks that benefit the public as a whole.
Lastly, big cities were the drivers of economic expansion during the current growth period. We don’t have a big city, but we can make smart investments in the cities we do have to make them more attractive to companies and young professionals. We can also strengthen the links we have to the two big cities on our doorstep: Boston and New York.
Transit and Transportation Infrastructure
This state is not easy to get around, and that has to change if we’re going to attract and keep business and talented people. Highway infrastructure does need fixing, and plans to bury I-84 in downtown Hartford will make for a healthier city. We also need to make serious improvements to public transit. The Hartford Line needs more trains, Metro-North needs more capacity and track that takes a less-winding route, CTFastrak needs to be expanded, and our bus systems need to be less of a confusing mess.
And if through some miracle the federal government is serious about some kind of infrastructure package, we need to be in on the ground floor with shovel-ready plans.
Marijuana and Sports Betting
Oh, legalize it already. Yeah, it’ll be good for tax revenues, but it’ll also help keep people out of jail and out of trouble. Besides, now that Massachusetts has taken the plunge, other states will follow. We should be right there with them.
The same is true when it comes to sports betting. We’re already behind other states, let’s get with the program and set up a system ASAP.
I admit, it troubles me that we’ll be profiting off of that minority of folks with serious addiction issues. The horse left the barn on that one a long, long time ago, sadly.
We need transportation funding, and it’s going to have to come in part from highway tolls on passenger cars. Governor-elect Ned Lamont is going to feel a lot of pressure to just toll trucks, but that will only have the effect of angering a necessary industry and making shipping more expensive. It likely won’t raise the amount of money that’s needed.
Tolling is not 100 percent fair, but it’s unfortunately necessary. Allowing low-income residents to apply for lower rates might be a way to equalize things a little bit, and the legislature should examine that.
I’m sure plenty of lawmakers will be tempted to kick the can down the road like the last legislature did so that they won’t have a vote for tolls on their records. I encourage them to remember where their spines are.
I’d love to see the legislature and the governor work together to craft an on-time budget that closes the deficit while minimizing the pain to the most vulnerable and protecting the state’s fragile economic gains.
I’d also like a pony, while I’m wishing.
I actually am hopeful that adding new revenue sources will eventually help close the funding gap, but in the meantime the priority should be on protecting our higher education system and essential state services. For instance, instead of shutting down a community college I bet we could do without that lousy football program at UConn.
That’s my wish list. Here’s hoping the legislature and our new governor can deliver on at least some of it!
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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