Gov. Ned Lamont and Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie
Susan Bigelow

Gov. Ned Lamont wants you to know how awesome Connecticut is doing, thanks to him. His re-election campaign released its first ad this week, titled “Have it All,” and it’s a feel-good mix of half-truths and empty platitudes. You know, the usual re-election stuff.

Lamont tells us that “for years, politicians couldn’t … balance the budget without raising taxes.” Thankfully, though, he came along: “As a businessman, I knew we could prove them wrong. We turned a massive budget deficit into a 3-billion dollar surplus.”

That sounds great. Wow! Nice job all around. And it’s true that the state is enjoying its first big budget surpluses since before the Great Recession pulled the rug out from under us back during the Rell administration. It’s a nice break from the fiscal doom and gloom of the Malloy years. How much of it is because of Ned Lamont and his business skills, though?

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That’s really hard to answer, but my gut suggests that it’s not a lot. Governors and presidents get the blame when the economy goes bad, and the praise when the economy is good. But government economic policy is often at the mercy of big, global forces outside its control. Were the budget deficits of the 2010s the fault of Dan Malloy, or were they the fault of increasing globalization, the incredible damage done by the 2008 crash, a cultural preference for big cities over suburbs, small cities, and rural areas, and Connecticut’s higher cost of living?

The same is true now. Lamont gets to take the credit for the state enjoying these surpluses, and he deserves some of it. He’s been pretty good at keeping business here and selling the state, but the increase in revenue had a lot more to do with the pandemic shifting people out of big cities, the resultant hot real estate market here, and a big, fat check from the feds. There’s even a line of thinking that Malloy deserves some of the credit, too, because a lot of the fiscal policies he set up are finally paying off.

Lamont’s claim that he balanced the budget without tax increases is also a little fishy. Yes, this year’s budget is pretty good, and we’ve got so much cash that we’re able to provide a gas tax holiday and make public transit free until June. Nice. But Mark Pazniokas and Keith Phaneuf over at the Mirror broke down a few of the increased fees and tax cut cancellations that were in his first budget. Lamont’s first year in office was also dominated by his plan to raise funds through tolling the highways. That didn’t come to pass, but it wasn’t for lack of trying on the governor’s part.

What surprised me about this ad, in addition to the fact that it seems a tad defensive behind all the sunshine, is that it didn’t mention the pandemic at all. This was a pure fiscal responsibility ad. That’s interesting, because it does suggest that the people running Lamont’s campaign think voters are going to care a lot more about bread and butter economic issues than how well Lamont handled COVID-19.

And yet, Lamont might not even be running if his calm, professional, and more-or-less successful handling of the pandemic hadn’t rehabilitated his image. His numbers were so low in early 2020 that they could only be found by mole people.

So that’s Lamont. What are Republicans doing?

Likely GOP nominee and 2018 runner-up Bob Stefanowski has been releasing ads with titles like “Fantastic Listener,” in which several women, including Bob’s wife, Amy Stefanowski, tell us what a great listener the guy is, and “Trust,” in which he repeats his pledge to audit every agency, a brand new thought that definitely doesn’t have an independent agency that can trace its roots back to 1662 dedicated to just that. Good idea, Bob.

However, things are getting nastier outside the warm, fuzzy confines of the actual campaigns. “CT Truth PAC,” a well-funded conservative group, put up an ad attacking the governor for some of the scandals in his administration, and Democrats responded by reminding us that Stefanowski was CEO of a gross payday loan company.

That’s foreshadowing if ever I saw 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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