Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo

HARTFORD, CT — In his maiden address to a joint session of the House and the Senate, Gov. Ned Lamont said he didn’t want the next four years to be defined by a fiscal crisis.

“Together we will craft an honestly balanced budget which does not borrow from the future, but invests in the future,” Lamont insisted as he was sworn in as the 89th governor of Connecticut.

A three-time candidate for statewide office, Lamont defeated Republican Bob Stefanowski by 43,137 votes in the November election. Independent candidate Oz Griebel finished a distant third.

He’s inheriting a $1.7 billion deficit in the next fiscal year, which is followed by a $2.3 billion deficit if spending continues to keep pace.

Former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy also didn’t want to be defined by a fiscal crisis, but he ended up getting blamed for an economy that was slow to recover. Over the past eight years, Connecticut‘s economy shrank by 2.5 percent, adjusted for inflation. During that same time, the national economy grew by 14 percent.

Tim Martin / ctnewsjunkie photo
Tim Martin / ctnewsjunkie photo

Lamont said he wants to “fix this damn budget, once and for all!”

“In six weeks, I will present to you a budget which is in balance not just for a year, but for the foreseeable future; so that mayors and first selectmen, business and labor leaders, teachers and police officers know what to expect. And we will deliver on what we say — on time and on budget,” Lamont said.

“However, I want to be clear – no more funny math or budgetary gamesmanship. I come from the world of small business where the numbers have to add up at the end of the month or the lights go out.”

Lamont continued: “Don’t tell me some consultant says there are $1 billion in easy spending cuts; show me the money or I will show you the door.”

Gov. Ned Lamont says “fix the damn budget!” during his inaugural address before the full General Assembly

Posted by on Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Lamont said he also doesn’t plan to entertain a discussion on who is responsible for the budget mess.

“It’s real, it’s here and it’s time to confront it head on,” Lamont said.

On specific initiatives, Lamont said he wants Connecticut to lead by investing in the first all-digital government, and reverse engineer every transaction from the taxpayer’s shoes.

“Second, to attract millennials, top talent and leading companies, Connecticut will need to invest wisely in its urban centers — making them affordable and lively, where families want to live, work and play,” Lamont said. “That means great schools, safe streets and by making our cities the first with 5G in New England. The telecommunication companies are ready to start building — let’s harness that excitement, and get WiFi access into every rural town.”

Lamont said that none of what he proposes is possible “if we don’t have a 21st century transportation system.”

Lamont, who campaigned on saying he wants to explore tolling out-of state-truckers, said: “Gridlock causes headaches and costs us jobs.”

“So what can we do? 30/30/30 — I want the following to be a reality: 30 minutes from Hartford to New Haven; 30 minutes from New Haven to Stamford; and 30 minutes from Stamford to Manhattan with spurs to New London and Waterbury. This isn’t a pipedream, this is a necessity: a modern infrastructure by rail, road, air and water — to unlock the full economic potential of our beautiful state,” Lamont said to applause.

At a meeting of business leaders hosted by the Connecticut Business and Industry Association last week, economist Peter Gioia said nothing would help Connecticut businesses — and the Connecticut economy — more than “finding a way to get to New York City quicker.”

Tim Martin / ctnewsjunkie photo
Tim Martin / ctnewsjunkie photo

Lamont had a message to state workers and Connecticut’s mayors and first selectman — they, too, will have to do their part to tackle the deficit.

The message for the workers and their leaders? “As our liabilities continue to grow faster than our assets, together we have to make the changes necessary to ensure that retirement security is a reality for our younger, as well as our older, state employees, and do that without breaking the bank,” the governor said.

For municipal leaders, Lamont pushed for regional cooperation and synergies, stating: “We need to break down silos and engage in the bulk purchasing of everything from healthcare to technology. The taxpayers of Connecticut can no longer afford to subsidize inefficiency.”

Lamont made reference to his successful business career in his speech, stating: “As one of the first governors who comes from the business world, I will be hyper-focused on job creation. My primary objective is to get this economy growing again.

“How do we extend opportunity for those being left behind? Growth! What’s the long-term fix to the budget? Growth! “How do we attract the next generation of talent to Connecticut? Growth!”

Lamont said that also means Connecticut should pass initiatives like paid family medical leave and a $15 an hour minimum wage.

The Democratic side of the chamber stood and applauded, while Republicans largely sat on their hands following that comment.

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said the governor can’t talk about straightening out the budget mess and in the same breath talk about things that are costly such as paid family and medical leave.

“Those are very valid things we should be talking about, but the problem is as we’ve seen in years past the last paid family and medical leave bill was $20 million to administer,” Klarides said. “I think we have to sit down and figure out a way to move it forward in a fiscally responsible way.”

Tim Martin / ctnewsjunkie photo

Senate Republican leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said he’s also in favor of paid family and medical leave that’s paid by employees, not employers.

“I think we can get there,” Fasano said.

Fasano said Lamont is showing an openness that Connecticut hasn’t seen in a long time. He said they need to continue to have these conversations and make sure everyone has a seat at the table.

That includes Connecticut state employees.

“I am a strong believer in labor, and now is the time to show that collective bargaining works in tough times, as well as good times,” Lamont said. “As our liabilities continue to grow faster than our assets, together we have to make the changes necessary to ensure that retirement security is a reality for our younger, as well as our older, state employees, and do that without breaking the bank.”

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said it sounds like Lamont wants to have discussions with organized labor, which has a contract with the state through 2027.

“He said collective bargaining is the way to go so that should make them feel comfortable,” Aresimowicz said.

However, Jody Barr, executive director of Council 4 AFSCME, said Lamont has not asked them to open the contract, but he has asked them to be part of the process.

Barr said his members have participated in the transition and are offering up ideas on how to improve state government.

“We’re all hopeful he’s going to bridge this fiscal thing,” Barr said. “It gives us hope we can get through it.”

Tim Martin / ctnewsjunkie photo
Tim Martin / ctnewsjunkie photo

Republican Party Chairman JR Romano wasn’t a fan of Lamont’s first speech as governor.

“All I heard was the same old Dan Malloy ideas,” Romano said. He described Lamont as “trying to be everything to all the people — and that won’t work.”

Romano said raising the minimum wage to $15 and paid medical family leave will place too much of a burden on an already overburdened business community in Connecticut.

“Business is doing a little better in Connecticut right now,” Romano said, “but it has nothing to do with the Connecticut economy. We’re just reaping the benefits of the federal economy.”

Tim Martin / ctnewsjunkie photo
Tim Martin / ctnewsjunkie photo