HARTFORD, CT — Gov. Ned Lamont told the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association that every single business person he has spoken to has told him that getting people around the state is key to its economic future and economic development.
That’s why he’s focused the past three months on revamping and reselling his transportation proposal to lawmakers.
However, Lamont’s first attempt at solving Connecticut’s transportation problems didn’t go so well, so he’s not going to roll this one out until he can win some legislative support.
“I’m trying to roll out a plan that is doable and finite and can make a difference now,” Lamont told some of Connecticut’s most powerful retailers at their annual meeting at the Bushnell.
Lamont said he’s talking to legislative leadership on a daily basis about the transportation proposal, but “I just don’t want to get ahead of myself.”
“I want to make sure that when we roll this out we have as many people on board as we can,” he added.
Senate Democrats have said they’re not interested in voting on a transportation plan that includes tolls if there’s no Republican support. Republican Senate Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, is currently reviewing the proposal, but has yet to indicate whether he would support it.
Lamont, a Greenwich millionaire who has been described by some as folksy, said he understands that the “middle class is getting hammered and they don’t trust their politicians.”
“When it comes to fixing our roads and bridges the Trump federal transportation [department] is very clear: that money by law can only go to that road or bridge that’s being repaired,” Lamont said.
Once the roads and bridges are paid for in 10 years, the toll will come down, Lamont said.
He said the state has about 12 to 15 choke points on its highways and if he can get rid of those it would save 15 to 20 minutes a day for commuters in certain areas of the state.
“We don’t have to rebuild our highways but if we can fix a couple of these chokepoints I can take 20 minutes to a half-an-hour off your commute,” Lamont said.
The other thing Lamont wants to do is speed up rail.
“Metro-North is the backbone for this state,” Lamont said. “The fact that it takes 10 to 15 minutes longer to take that train today than it did a generation ago is a real killer.”
Lamont conceded that he’s going to need help from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but joked the two have become best friends following a pair of meetings over the past three months.
“He’s agreed we’re going to work together on this,” Lamont said. “It’s just as important for him as it is for us.”
Karen Munson, who is the president of Munson’s Chocolates, said the company takes pride in being able to hire young people and give them their first job. She asked why Lamont felt it was appropriate to increase the minimum wage while limiting the subminimum wage for youth seeking their first job.
“Do you see paying teenagers who have never been in the workforce up to $15 an hour as a deterrent for an employer to hire, train, and mentor young people?” Munson asked.
Lamont said he didn’t want to do anything to discourage employers from hiring young people.
“Increasing the minimum wage is the best thing we’ve done in a long time,” Lamont said. “We’re lifting hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty.”
He said there is a limited subminimum wage that can be offered for a period of 90 days. Munson acknowledged the 90-day subminimum wage in her question.
Retailers also expressed concern about things like the implementation of a sales tax on dry cleaning. Until this year dry cleaning had been exempt from the sales tax.
Gail Reiner, owner of Mayflower Laundry, said having clean clothes and bedding is not discretionary and it’s not a luxury.
Reiner was responding to Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, who was describing the deliberations behind increasing some sales taxes, instead of the overall sales tax rate, to raise a few hundred million to close the budget deficit.
Rojas, who said he didn’t necessarily agree with the approach but acknowledged that it was derived through budget negotiations, was named legislator of the year by the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association.