Victories or defeats? Session creates template for campaigns
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont made it clear Thursday, the day after the General Assembly adjourned, that he’ll be campaigning on what he sees as the big successes of the 2022 legislative session, ranging from “historic” tax cuts to new funding for child care services.
Republicans, however, are likely to campaign on how those supposed successes fell far short of what they say voters want.
“This is a bumper sticker budget for the Democrats for November. It is not a budget crafted for the future well-being of the state of Connecticut,” said House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, referring to the Democratic claims that the roughly $600 million in tax cuts and credits is the largest in state history. The list ranges from extending the 25 cent-per gallon gas tax holiday until December to creating a new, one-year child tax credit.
“Yes, you can message that,” said Candelora. “But when people don’t feel it in their pockets, that’s going to be a problem for them.”
The election season officially kicks off Friday, when Democrats and Republicans gather for their respective two-day party conventions to endorse candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, U.S. Senate and other state constitutional offices.
Lamont, who is expected to receive his party’s backing on Saturday in Hartford, said he plans to make the case that Connecticut’s financial picture has greatly improved following years of state budget deficits, daunting unfunded pension liabilities, sluggish revenues, cuts in state programs, labor concessions from state employees and the depletion of the state’s rainy day fund to help offset the shortfalls.
The revised, one-year $24.2 billion state budget that is awaiting Lamont’s signature benefited from $1 billion in federal relief funds, as well as a $4.8 billion surplus. The plan includes an extra $3.6 billion to reduce unfunded pension liability, in addition to roughly $1.6 billion in supplemental payments made last year, which Democrats predict will save $444 million annually over the next 25 years.
As of 2021, the state employee pension plan was 44.5% funded while the teacher pension plan liability was 51.3% funded as of 2020, the most recent figures available from the Office of Policy and Management.
“What a difference four years makes. Four years ago, Susan, I were looking down the barrel of a (two-year) $3.8 billion deficit,” Lamont said Thursday, referring to Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, who will also be seeking the party’s endorsement Saturday.
“I think a lot of people appreciate that the state is turning a corner. I think a lot of people know that we are lurching from crisis to crisis and at least stabilized the ship,” said Lamont, when asked about his expected campaign pitch to voters. “I think there’s a sense that we’re beginning to make progress. So our job is to make sure we continue to build on that progress.”
Republican businessperson Bob Stefanowski, who is expected to receive the GOP’s backing on Friday night, has already raised questions about how Lamont “magically claims to be a tax-cutter.” In 2019, Lamont proposed a contentious plan to “modernize” the state’s sales tax base and impose the state’s 6.35% sales tax on a long list of goods services, in additional to proposing highway tolls as a way to fund transportation.
“The governor’s budget is riddled with election year pandering and will do little to make life easier for residents,” Stefanowski said in a statement. “Next year, my budget will be rooted in honesty, integrity and will provide long-term reform to make it easier for everyone in Connecticut to get by.”
The GOP contender has called for cutting the sales tax, the restaurant and prepared foods tax and the gross receipts tax on gasoline, arguing that residents need immediate relief from soaring inflation.
Meanwhile, Lamont goes into the convention having signed a key bill from the legislative session Thursday that deals with another hot-button election issue: abortion.
Abortion rights advocates contend Connecticut’s new law, which takes effect July 1, is needed to protect in-state medical providers from legal action stemming from out-of-state laws, as well as the patients who travel to Connecticut and those who help them. The legislation also expands who can perform abortions.
Stefanowski has said in a written statement that the draft opinion suggesting the U.S. Supreme Court could be poised to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case “doesn’t change anything here in Connecticut” where he said “a woman’s right to choose is fully protected under state law.”
Democratic Party officials have called on Stefanowski to go further and explain whether he supports the current state law and whether he’d support new restrictions.