NEW BRITAIN, CT — Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont marked his first 100 days in office by holding a mid-afternoon meeting at Central Connecticut State University with the chairs of the policy groups he formed to help him craft his agenda.
Most of that agenda has not made it through the legislative process so it’s unclear how successful Lamont will be at getting some of his policies over the finish line.
But the members of the transition team said in his first 100 days he’s been able to reset expectations of what it means to govern.
Fran Pastore, CEO of the Women’s Development Business Council, said Lamont has embraced the private sector unlike previous governors.
She said the $100 million donation from Dalio Philanthropies was “unprecedented.”
Yvette Melendez, who co-chaired the Education Committee of the transition team and is considered the “architect of Connecticut’s entry into the charter school movement,” said Lamont has demonstrated the “courage” by doing things that are difficult like proposing legislation to incentivize schools to share services.
Lamont’s bill to have towns share educational services was modified from its original version, but it’s still going through the legislative process and seeks to incent towns to share certain functions. However, it doesn’t force schools to regionalize, close schools, or even combine school districts, like his original legislation suggested.
Lamont said he doesn’t know why he needs to give people incentives to do what’s in their own best self-interest.
Both Melendez and Pastore mentioned their appreciation for Lamont’s embrace of diversity in nominating his administration.
The administration includes nearly 50 percent women as commissioners, and represents a diverse set of leaders from different Connecticut communities.
Former Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey who chaired the Shared Services committee said so many of the concepts Lamont proposed hang in the balance over the next seven weeks of the legislative session.
Sharkey said Lamont is going to have to negotiate a “shared relationship” between the state and municipalities if he wants to be successful.
However, Lamont remains hard to pin down on specific policy issues.
Asked by a CCSU student if he supported a sales tax on textbooks, Lamont said he’s sensitive to anything that makes education more expensive, but he needs to expand the sales tax base.
Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz jumped in and said the sales tax Connecticut collects has gone down by $700 million.
“If you have a problem with a particular tax tell your legislator and eventually we’ll figure it out,” Bysiewicz told CCSU Senior Justin Boutin.
After the event, Boutin, who asked the question several times, said he just wanted to hear a yes or no.
“He ran around in circles,” Boutin said.
The proposal would raise $300,000 in the first year of the budget, and $500,000 in the second year.
Asked where negotiations stand with paid Family and Medical Leave and an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, Lamont said he thinks lawmakers know where he stands.
However, many lawmakers are still wondering what type of negotiator Lamont will be since these discussions haven’t gotten to the level where he’s involved.
“I like to do progressive things in a conservative way that people can count on,” Lamont said.
He said his number one issue is to get a balanced budget that begins to deal with Connecticut’s long-term structural problems.
“Number two I’ve got to fix this transportation system,” Lamont said. “Every business leader I talk to says it is driving jobs out of state.”
He said Connecticut can’t do that by putting all of it on the state’s credit card.
Melissa Kaplan-Macey, a member of Lamont’s transportation committee, thanked the governor for “being bold and being brave and doing the things that are hard.” She was referring to the unpopular idea of reintroducing electronic tolls on four Connecticut highways to help pay for transportation improvements.
Both the toll proposal and the shared services proposal for schools have caused movements to organize against the ideas. The two groups will be rallying together on May 18.
Hands Off Our Schools recently organized as a PAC to fight against proposals to regionalize school services and to advocate for local decision making. And No Tolls CT has organized to fight the toll proposal. The group, however, has not created any formal entity aside from its Facebook page and a petition.