Next Wednesday, Gov. Ned Lamont will be sharing his full budget plan in a speech to the General Assembly, but on Monday we got a little preview of what that might entail in a serious-yet-optimistic open letter the governor sent the people of Connecticut.
In that letter, Lamont warned people to “temper your enthusiasm” about this year’s budget surplus, citing as dangers both fixed costs and the possibility of another economic downturn.
Interestingly, only a few hours earlier, the governor had released plans to make the DMV less of a hassle, ease regulations to make it easier for businesses and government to cooperate in public-private partnerships, and to encourage more participation in the electoral process.
In short, the budget is going to be another painful one, but the government itself might become friendlier, more modern, less onerous, and more open in the process.
That’s … different, I’ll give him that. Former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was way more about the stick, not so much the carrot. I do wonder, though: if Gov. Lamont is working to butter us up this much in advance of his speech, just how bad are things going to get?
Let’s dive in. We’ll start with the open letter about the budget.
The letter does two things: it breaks with the past, and it braces the public for the bad news to come.
So, Ned Lamont is an optimistic, friendly sort of guy and that comes through. He writes about how thankful he is to be governing the state, and how he believes Connecticut is “poised for success” because of low unemployment and “the growth of established and emerging sectors from wind energy to biotechnology on the horizon.” Later on he talks about how he’s going to sit down with “our friends in labor and business,” and I can actually believe that he thinks of them as friends instead of opposing forces.
It’s a refreshingly different tone from that of the past eight years, though it’s easy to dismiss as naivety and inexperience. We’ll see how well Gov. Lamont is doing after the legislature blows the budget deadline and draws things out for months.
Lamont’s work to try to draw the business community into the conversation in a productive way also feels like a break from the past, when the Malloy administration and business often seemed at odds. Lamont also is trying hard to show that he understands the biggest concern of businesses, namely that the state’s fiscal crisis makes things incredibly uncertain. Lamont writes of committing to “sustained fiscal stability,” which must be music to the private sector’s ears.
Lamont also wants his budget process to be open and transparent, and is promising that the budget “…will pass in the light of day and before the end of the legislative session in June.” Now, that would be a welcome change. Good luck.
As for what we can expect, Lamont spent a whole paragraph on sales tax exemptions, specifically highlighting the exemption for online streaming services but opening the door to eliminating others. The sales tax is obviously going to play a big role in closing the budget holes. This is going to be the most painful part, I’m assuming.
The mention of “fixed costs” as one of the big problems in the budget, as well as identifying “labor” as one of the partners Lamont will be sitting down with, suggests some kind of pension reform.
There was no mention of tolls. I still think they’re coming.
So that’s the stick. What about the carrot, or the proposals to make government better?
Proposing online renewal of drivers’ licenses and longer periods between renewals will make dealing with the DMV less painful, and I’m all for that. Less red tape for public-private partnerships is a welcome development, too, and is another way Lamont is reaching out to businesses. There’s a lot to like about his electoral process proposals, especially giving high school and college credit for students who volunteer as election workers and making Election Day a state holiday. These are tangible things that people will actually notice.
Lamont learned something from his predecessor, and that’s that the public likes being courted. We like optimism, fiscal stability, and not having to go to the dratted DMV all the time. He also learned that an unpopular governor can’t do much of anything, so he’s trying his best to keep everyone on his side.
I’m bracing myself for next week, though, when the young Lamont administration’s budget comes out and the honeymoon comes to an end.
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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