In speech interrupted by pro-Palestine protesters, Lamont touts rosy outlook on Conn. finances
Gov. Ned Lamont delivered his State of the State Address Wednesday to detail some of his priorities for the year. Lamont’s remarks kicked off the new, short legislative session, which extends through early May.
During a speech that was interrupted by pro-Palestinian protesters, the Democrat addressed a number of issues lawmakers are likely to debate this session including child care, concerns about Connecticut’s electric grid and the state’s housing crisis.
Lamont shared an upbeat look of the state and its finances, lauding the fact that the two-year $51-billion budget passed last year on a bipartisan vote “is still in the black” unlike most of Connecticut's peer states. It also includes tax cuts that take effect this year.
GOP on Lamont’s budgetary caps: ‘Music to our ears’
Lamont on Wednesday also released his proposed adjustments to the second year of the two-year budget.
Despite calls to the contrary from progressive Democrats, the governor's plan abides by the state's “fiscal guardrails,” bipartisan financial restraints imposed in 2017 that have been credited with bringing financial stability to the state. Some top Democrats, including Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, have suggested the caps on spending and borrowing should be adjusted to allow for more spending in key areas.
“Governor Lamont offered another status-quo budget address that yet again highlights how distant our multi-millionaire Governor is from everyday Connecticut residents,” said Norma Martinez HoSang, director of Connecticut For All, a coalition of faith, labor and advocacy groups, in a statement.
While Lamont faces pushback from the more liberal wing of his party, the top Republican leader of the state Senate praised the governor for still embracing the budgetary caps, calling it “music to our ears.” Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, a Republican from Stratford, said budgets are about priorities and if the Democrats want to spend more money on social services and other programs, then they need to reprioritize spending.
“The guardrails have worked fabulously well,” he said. “They’ve resulted in balanced budgets. They resulted in a rainy day fund. They’ve resulted in paying down debt.”
Protesters interrupt Lamont’s remarks
During Lamont’s speech, a group of pro-Palestinian protesters interrupted the governor, chanting "ceasefire now." The demonstrators were later removed by police.
Officers from multiple departments quickly removed about 25 people from a demonstration on the first floor and about 10 to 12 people from the House gallery, which is above where Lamont spoke.
A group of people marched and chanted outside the state Capitol, holding a banner that read "Connecticut Stop Arming Israel." Connecticut is home to multiple gun manufacturers.
No one was arrested or issued a summons to court, State Capitol Police Lt. Gregory Wimble said.
Early education and child care a priority, Lamont says
During his remarks Lamont touted new investment into early child care and education.
“Our budget provides the biggest commitment to child care in our history, an additional $90 million next year alone, providing additional pay for early childhood educators and higher reimbursement for our centers and family care homes,” Lamont said.
Lamont announced a bill last week to waive fees for home child care licenses, in addition to fees for certain education and nursing certifications.
There is also a combination of state and federal COVID funds set aside to continue providing universal free breakfast and reduced-price meal subsidies for school lunches to students.
State colleges respond to budget address
Lamont says his budget includes the “largest state grants ever” for Connecticut's state college and the University of Connecticut.
But some educators at those schools have raised alarm about large budget cuts and possible staff reductions as emergency funding from the pandemic goes away.
“Our colleges and universities are key economic drivers, helping to meet the state’s needs,” said Terrence Cheng, chancellor of Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) in a statement.
Cheng says additional funding will help state colleges to train students in high demand fields like health care, manufacturing and education to help meet the state’s “workforce shortage.”
“Every day from now until midnight on May 8, we will be working closely with the Governor’s Office, state lawmakers and key stakeholders to ensure CSCU receives the funding it needs to continue to foster the next generation of teachers, nurses, manufacturers, and corporate leaders,” he said.
More needs to be done on CT’s housing crisis, Lamont says
The governor said more work needs to be done to make housing in Connecticut more attainable.
“We have too many people who cannot find a place to live – either it is not available, or it is not affordable. Our biennial budget doubles our investment in housing – that’s workforce housing, affordable housing, supportive housing, elder housing, and downtown apartments.”
Lamont noted that he will be looking to towns and cities about details such as housing location, density, and distance to transportation and schools.
The Democrat’s plan includes additional funding to provide no-cost legal representation to income-eligible tenants facing eviction.
Debate over electric vehicle regulations rolls on
Connecticut lawmakers are also quickly gearing up to consider stricter electric vehicle regulations to meet state climate goals.
During his remarks Wednesday, Lamont acknowledged that modern technology, including electric vehicles, will likely increase demand on the electrical grid, and said he wants to examine more solutions to modernize grid development.
“So I am working with my neighboring governors as we source the next generation of clean energy with an emphasis upon affordability,” Lamont said. “And I would welcome insights from the energy and environment committees as we weigh our options.”
Democratic leadership in the state House says a public hearing on new electric vehicle regulations will take place before any upcoming vote in the General Assembly.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.