Governor Ned Lamont had two very different years in office. During the first, he struggled with the Connecticut General Assembly, but not COVID-19. During the second, he faced COVID but not lawmakers.
Any guess he found easier?
“Obviously the last year was very different. I mean the legislature went home. That was great. We have done a lot, ”said Lamont recently. Then he laughed and added, "You know, I kind of liked it."
Maybe a joke.
In any case, lawmakers is back, COVID remains, and the Democratic governor and lawmakers, most of whom are Democrats, are figuring out what it's like to pursue agendas that overlap but are barely in sync.
Lamont continues to administer COVID as part of the public health authorities. However, advancing a broader agenda means finding common cause with the General Assembly.
On February 10th, the governor will propose a two-year budget, accompanied by a legislative package that will include measures to legalize marijuana and sports betting. Highway tolls are off the table, but he is also expected to propose a new source of funding to raise revenue for a stalled specialty transportation fund.
Legislators are curious to see how they formulate their proposals.
In the third year of their relationship, the governor and lawmaker still sometimes struggle to figure out what the other is about. Lamont, 67, a Greenwich businessman, came to Hartford as a cultural and geographic outsider, less a politician than a serious student.
His initial attitude towards the legislature was an invitation to work with him to develop approaches on a wide range of topics. He promised an office with "an open door" and "a large table". The overture was inviting at first, but ultimately frustrating for the legislature.
Jacqueline Rabe Thomas :: CtMirror.org
"He's a great person to talk to. He's very, very approachable," said Vincent J. Candelora, minority chairman of the R-North Branford House of Representatives. "But the problem I can't reach, and I brought up this issue is how you engage the legislature and take an active role in this process. "
Put simply, lawmakers struggled to guess what was really important to Lamont, a necessary foundation on which to make laws and do business. If Lamont is to achieve legislative victories this year, lawmakers say the governor must speak with clarity and conviction.
"I think it would be nice to have clear parameters for the bills that are important to the governor – and that he would understand the clear parameters for the bills that are important to the legislature," said Sen. Cathy Osten, D.-Sprague, Co- Chairman of the Budget Committee.
"I think we're still learning to work together," said Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, the other co-chair of Appropriations.
Lamont is aware of the criticism.
"I think the first year I was, you know," I'll keep my options open. Let's listen, let's see where the legislature is. "I think in this legislature it is useful for people to know exactly where I am," said Lamont. “I want you to know where I am on taxes. I think that helps the conversation. "
Lamont has made clear signals to Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, and lawmakers that he sees no need for new taxes. Looney is proposing a statewide property tax that would apply to properties with a market value of $ 430,000 or more and a 1% tax on capital gains made by single applicants earning more than $ 500,000 or couples earning more than $ 1 million .
House spokesman Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said there was nothing wrong with a governor drawing lines or even reasonably suggesting the possibility of a veto.
"If you say it, you have to mean it," said Ritter. "This is very, very important for negotiations, just because I know and have to tell my caucus which red lines we cannot cross. But at the same time, if you throw that word around too much, it also loses a little of its shine."
If Ritter prescribes a hard love, he also insists that the governor would benefit from a better understanding of the importance of bonding to local projects for lawmakers. Lamont was averse to borrowing and often derided it as pork.
"It is one thing to say: 'I will not have projects that do not add value to our state.' OK, that is one thing, but it is another thing to say: ' I'm not going to run any projects. "And they were on the latter for a while," said Ritter. "I think they need to recalibrate this thought process because the legislature will require it."
House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, said the governor has clearly had difficulty making the transition from businessman to elected official.
"Given his personality and temperament, I think he has really, really recovered from it and has recovered from a really difficult situation where communication, at least from my end, is improving a lot," said Rojas.
Looney said he believed Lamont learned that arguing for votes in the 151-seat House or the 36-seat Senate may take patience.
"I think he learned that when one person is able to make a decision on behalf of the entire branch of government, the legislature has to go through a process and can't turn a dime in like the executive," Looney said. "I think he learned a little about the nuts and bolts, the fact that the legislature is more like a battleship while the executive is more like a nifty sailboat that can turn quickly."
Looney may be too optimistic.
In an interview last week, Lamont described the Capitol as a “mud pit” where politics stall and sink into the swamp of politics.
“I love the job. And I think we make a difference. And I think we're going in the right direction, ”said Lamont. "But basically the Capitol is just politics and short-term political calculations."
Cloe Poisson :: CTMirror.org
This will be a pivotal meeting for Lamont should he seek a second term in 2022, which many Democrats believe is the party's standard assumption until the governor says otherwise. Lamont said he intended to avoid re-election for as long as possible.
"I stay away from this stuff as much as I can, A because everyone's running non-stop in the Capitol all the time," he said. "That's why so little is being done. And B, I have a lot to do. And I just don't need to bring partisan color into this thing. I would like to believe that we have dealt with COVID in a way that both Republicans and Democrats will understand we're trying to do what's best for their public health. And I don't want to do anything to endanger that. "
Its legislative track record is relatively small, a consequence of a first year dominated by a failed highway toll campaign and a second year punctuated by COVID-19.
Its standing in the polls was solid last year, a reflection of what the public generally saw as a competent and empathetic achievement in managing a pandemic that hit Connecticut particularly hard in its first few months.
"My priority for this coming biennium is a bit like last time – I have to maintain the fiscal stability of this state," said Lamont. "When I got in it was," What the hell is wrong with Connecticut? "You remember that headline? And you don't ask that question now."
Getting a budget off the ground on time and dramatically is what he calls a major first year accomplishment. He also played a supportive role in the passage of a paid family and sick leave program and a law to raise the minimum wage to $ 15.
Senator John Fonfara, D-Hartford, co-chair of the Finance, Revenue and Bonds Committee, said urban Democratic lawmakers are hungry for something bolder, an agenda that addresses issues of social justice and other needs of struggling cities and color communities .
“And that needs visions, that needs leadership. I've been in the legislature for 35 years now, ”said Fonfara. “And while lawmakers can do many good things, in the end it takes a governor to do bold things that have a chance to pass, become law and enforced. And that wasn't this governor's agenda for the first few years. "
Tax stability is not enough, he said.
"We need a leader who not only drives the trains on time. That is not enough, not if your economy is where ours is – no new net jobs in 20 years, a property tax system that stifles growth, ”said Fonfara.
Lamont supported the passage of a law on police accountability in a special session last year.
Lamont tried something bold in 2019. After promising during his campaign that he would only consider truck tolls as a means of financing overdue transportation improvements, he proposed an electronic toll system for cars and trucks.
The 2019 meeting ended without a vote on his plan. Lamont tried to revive it in a special session in the fall and finally formulated what the new revenue could buy: selective widening of the motorway and improvements to the exit, which could shorten commuter traffic and stimulate development.
When that failed, he tried to resort to a truck-only plan, encouraged by the House Democrats. Lamont lost patience in February 2020, concluding that even a scaled-down plan would not come to the vote in the Senate.
Lamont sees the effort today as a noble failure.
"My politicians said," Don't touch the transportation fund. That's just a political loser. "And I said. "I'm 66 years old. I'm not here not to solve problems like this." Did it work? No, "Lamont said." In fact, I couldn't get lawmakers to vote on anything – my bill, their bill, any bill. "
In an effort to stabilize transportation funding, at least temporarily, Lamont is investigating a type of mileage charge for trucks, an idea that Congressional Republicans had in Washington.
"We're going to think about this mileage for trucks," said Lamont. "And I'm going to put some critical things on the table for lawmakers. And they'll probably say," No, not right now. "But my job is to drop the political chips where they like."
Sports betting is likely to pass if he can come to terms with the two nationally recognized tribes that have exclusive rights to casino gambling. The tribes claim bookmaking is a casino game.
It is uncertain to win a majority for the concept of legalizing marijuana. The details are complex, including who would be eligible to sell licenses and which communities should benefit from the new revenue.
Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, co-chair of the Finance, Revenue and Bonds Committee, said that consensus on these issues would most likely not be reached without a clear position from the Lamont administration.
"I think that's the right approach," he said.
Rep. Josh Elliott, D-Hamden, part of a group that has worked with the administration on so-called "equity issues" related to legalization, said the details are important.
"We made a number of recommendations regarding licensing and revenue levels," said Elliott. “So the problem is, is he actually going to do these things? Or is it just saying, "Hey, look, I'm listening" and then immediately ignoring us? "