Photo: Jessica Hill, Associated Press. Governor Lamont at his 2023 inaugurationDelivered by Governor Ned Lamont on January 4, 2023 in the Hall of the House of Representatives at the State Capitol.
Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Senator Kelly, Representative Candelora, Lieutenant Governor Bysiewicz, members of General Assembly, thank you for inviting me back into the room where it happens. Four years later, and what a four years it has been.
Every election gives us a fresh start, starting with 36 new legislators. We have a freshly minted Secretary of the State Thomas. We have our first millennial constitutional officers — Comptroller Scanlon and Treasurer Russell. And our same old esteemed Speaker of the House Ritter. What is he, 40? So, not to worry, Kevin, Marty, and I are hanging around to chaperone the party.
So, I turned 69 yesterday. Time marches on, so we better hurry up. Maybe I am less guarded, a little more blunt, and feeling more urgency to get to yes.
Getting older is kind of liberating. I don’t want you to wait a generation before you feel equally liberated. When I turned 18, Richard Nixon was president. My friends and I were listening to the lottery on the radio to see who got drafted off to Vietnam, and I have been a Democrat ever since.
But even in public life we are so much more than our party affiliation. My defining professional experience was starting and operating a telecom company, and watching my amazing wife invest in great entrepreneurs.
I am a proud husband and a very proud dad, and an up and down Yankees fan.
“You are a citizen legislature”
You must always remember that you are a citizen legislature. Yes, the Republicans are sitting over here, and the Democrats are sitting over there, and you have your own caucuses and leaders, but you are all much more than that — bringing your different experiences and backgrounds to the table, and we are all much better for it.
Perhaps you ran for office because you wanted to fix something that ticked you off — in your role as a teacher or a coach, a business or labor leader, or community volunteer. I would urge you, at the end of that hearing, to grab a beer or coffee with the member to your left or your right, see what you have in common, and listen for what you don’t have in common.
Or perhaps you are just proud to be an American citizen serving in our democracy. We have four new legislators who were not born in the United States of America: Senator MD Rahman from Bangladesh, Joe Hoxha from Albania, Hector Arzeno from Argentina, and Rachel Khanna from France. Hector and Rachel are neighbors in Greenwich — I would love to hear those World Cup squabbles on your commute north.
But more importantly, whether you’re born in Argentina, France, Albania, or Bangladesh, thank you for making Connecticut your home. That’s not woke, that’s America.
I want to give a special shout out to Sara, here in the front row. She is a student at Gateway Community College. She hails from Afghanistan where the Taliban will no longer allow girls to go to college. Sara, if the Taliban doesn’t welcome you back to Afghanistan, you always have a home right here in Connecticut. These are Connecticut values.
Let’s show off how much we can get done by working together — demonstrating how our differences are what brings us together, not what tear us apart.
Four years ago, the elephant in the room was “a permanent fiscal crisis.” At the time, I got a little riled up and shouted, “Let’s fix the damn budget once and for all!” And that first year we didn’t permanently fix the budget, but it was a significant first step towards fixing it. We delivered a balanced budget, on time, without relying on the tax increases which had become the historic norm. And just as we were feeling some momentum, Covid hit and it hit our region hard.
John Lennon sang “Imagine.” He also said, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” And nobody had a plan for Covid. I knew what I didn’t know, and I knew how to reach out to the people who did. We reached out to the hospitals and the epidemiologists, business, labor, and faith leaders, asking, “How could we best keep our community safe? How do we get our economy open safely?”
“Lift families up”
My thanks to all of you who have such credibility in your communities, who helped make sure Connecticut stuck together and rowed together as one, in the same direction, allowing Connecticut to start healing faster. In those early months, government was all about lifelines and rescue operations — be it masks and tests, or more cash assistance for the unemployed, essential workers, and families with kids. Plus, direct payments to keep small businesses open.
Three years later, I still worry like heck about Covid. But I worry even more that we will lose this opportunity as a state and as a country to lift families up.
The next four years should focus more on recovery, less on rescue, less need for lifelines, and more focus on ladders. Keep our economy growing, making sure that growth means a ladder to opportunity for everyone regardless of background or zip code.
As Senator Doug McCrory reminds me, talent is widely distributed, but opportunity not so much. My fiscal priorities are economic growth, because growth is the precondition to opportunity.
We have 100,000 jobs going begging in our state. Why is that?
A smaller share of our working age population is working.
Our population is growing but growing too slowly.
And many of these unfilled jobs require extra training.
So, what are we doing about that?
We’re making it easier for people to get back to work. A workplace that meets the needs of a young family — paid family and medical leave, expanded childcare, and paid sick days. These initiatives help young families to get back to work and stay at work.
We’ve got a minimum wage that keeps pace with inflation. Work should pay more, and we are providing you the skills you need to take that higher paying next job. CareerConneCT will set you up with the skills and the job which are your next rungs on the ladder to opportunity.
That new job is the start of a career, and that career may give you the experience and the confidence to start your own business. Our small business boost fund has invested in over 100 new and expanding companies, and most of these companies are led by women and entrepreneurs of color.
Transportation and education
Look, I spent 30 years in business, and I see opportunity through the lens of starting small businesses and helping them grow. But innovation doesn’t begin and end in the private sector and I want all of our state employees to be empowered to innovate as well. We rely too much on subsidies instead of innovation to provide better service at less cost.
In my office our team has heard me say over and over, “Stop pouring money into a leaky bucket. Fix the bucket and put the money to work.”
We can keep spending hundreds of millions of dollars to patch up old bridges where trains and trucks have to slow down to cross safely, or we can rebuild the choke points in our transportation system to help you get to work or back home faster and safer.
I am headed off to New London in about ten minutes to meet with Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, a.k.a. Mayor Pete, who recently announced a $158 million grant awarded to Connecticut to rebuild the Gold Star Memorial Bridge. That’s what I call structural reform.
We still have almost $1 billion in federal money to invest in education. Thank you, Secretary Cardona, Connecticut’s very own Miguel Cardona, who knows so well that education is the ladder to opportunity.
So, I urge all of our superintendents and principals and teachers, let’s implement your best ideas to help students recover from learning loss. Let’s get them loving to learn again, with apprentice and career opportunities to put them on the path to success.
Healthcare and energy
We have high healthcare costs and high energy costs and high housing costs, and the answer cannot always be more subsidies or bail outs. The taxpayers cannot afford it and too often the subsidy is an excuse for no structural reform.
Deidre Gifford and her healthcare cabinet will continue to make healthcare more accessible and more affordable. And I love the recently announced partnership between UConn, Connecticut Innovations, and Hartford HealthCare to jointly identify and invest in next generation healthcare companies and life-saving treatments.
Come on insurance companies, don’t just pass along those hospital and pharma costs. Let’s reward patients and companies who seek treatment where they get the best quality and the best value.
Come on electric utilities, don’t tell me you are just passing along those high natural gas prices to the ratepayer and at the same time ask the taxpayers to subsidize it more. Let’s together get control over our energy supply chain so Putin and the Saudis can no longer control our destiny and our wallets.
We have made a start by expanding our wind power, extending our nuclear power, pushing hard to get access to Canadian hydro power, and making our homes more energy efficient — that’s less costs and carbon free.
Housing and local control
But the biggest slam to our affordability and economic growth is housing, or the lack thereof. Every business thinking about moving or expanding repeats over and over, “Even if you had the workforce, there is no place for them to live.” The answer cannot simply be more subsidies. Connecticut towns and cities, you tell us where developers can build more housing so more housing can be built faster, at less cost, and local control will determine how and where it is built.
Our future is more local businesses and more housing options in your downtown — walk to work or take faster public transit.
You’ve heard me say it before, “I don’t want more taxes, I want more taxpayers.” More taxpayers will guarantee a bigger economic pie that lets us keep up the progress in progressive.
The next generation in Connecticut is all about opportunity, and that opportunity starts with economic growth.
“Connecticut’s permanent fiscal crisis is over”
Fiscal stability is the foundation to inclusive growth. In 2017, the legislature put in place the fiscal guardrails that have allowed us to honestly balance four budgets in a row, and thank you for that. We have paid down billions in pension debt which our predecessors had previously put on the state’s credit card. We are honoring our commitments to our teachers and state employees, reducing costs to taxpayers for the next generation, and we still have a long way to go.
Thanks to our collective efforts, the era of Connecticut’s permanent fiscal crisis is over. It’s over as long as we maintain the same fiscal discipline that served us so well over the last four years.
After many years of unfilled promises, now is the time to enact a meaningful middle-class tax cut. That’s a reduction in tax rates, which the state can afford and makes your life more affordable.
Connecticut is moving from rescue to recovery, investing in our future, in your future, starting with good paying jobs, and you keeping more of what you earn.
“A sign that we are working together”
On election night, I looked at Steve Kornacki’s election maps, where in most states the blue got bluer and the red redder. But what happened in Connecticut was very different. It’s not every day that New Canaan and New Britain vote the same way, that the suburbs and the cities are complementary and not competitive. To me, it’s a sign that we are working together as one.
So, if you make it over to the inaugural bash this evening, party like a liberated governor. Let your hair down. Let’s see a little “Footloose” on the dance floor, maybe with somebody you don’t know but you often see around the Capitol.
Four years ago, after the inaugural, there were about 10,000 Tweets to remind me never to dance in public ever again. But it’s my party and I’ll dance if I want to, and so should you.
God bless the dancing State of Connecticut.