HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont’s calls for innovative solutions and collaboration during two speeches Wednesday drew mostly applause from lawmakers.
Lamont, sworn in as Connecticut’s 89th governor, said during his inaugural and State of the State addresses that now is the time for “bold” ideas to move the state forward.
He also urged lawmakers to work together on Connecticut’s biggest problems, most notably a budget deficit of roughly $1.7 billion in the next fiscal year.
“The budget vote will be a tough one, no doubt,” he said in his address to the General Assembly. “It will be easy to vote ‘no,’ but I have a responsibility to get us to ‘yes,’ and we only get there by working together.”
Leaders from each party said Lamont’s remarks demonstrated a desire to work collaboratively.
“We see D.C. right now, and there’s a bunch of political leaders from our president on down that aren’t willing to compromise — that’s not going to be us here in Connecticut,” said House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, who represents part of Southington.
Aresimowicz said he expects Lamont, who founded a cable service company, will draw on his business background, but that he will address policy issues “with heart.”
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said Lamont gave the impression he’s willing to listen to any and all ideas.
“I don’t think there is anything that’s a non-starter,” said Fasano, who represents Wallingford.
Lamont laid out some policy proposals during his State of the State address that are in line with some of the Democrats’ campaign pledges, namely raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour and implementing a paid family medical leave program.
“I’m very optimistic,” Sen. Mary Daugherty Abrams, D-Meriden, said. “I think paid family leave is something everybody can get behind. It depends on how it gets rolled out.”
Democrats have already submitted proposals for each policy, and Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said Lamont’s support shows he is in line with legislative Democrats on those issues.
Lamont also called for transportation upgrades, something else that drew support from Democrats.
“He has the priorities in his head correct,” Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, said. “We’re curious to see how he cuts the budget to get there.”
Others, including Reps. Cathy Abercrombie and Hilda Santiago, both Meriden Democrats, expressed optimism about Lamont’s ideas, including investment in technology.
“I am really encouraged by the governor’s speech,” Abercrombie said. “We are really lacking as a state when it comes to technology.”
Santiago, meanwhile, said she was “supportive” of Lamont’s speech “but we’ll see what comes down the pike.”
Some Republicans felt that Lamont, even when pushing policies they didn’t support, seemed to indicate that he was willing to listen to their concerns.
Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, pointed to Lamont’s call for a minimum wage increase “responsibly and over time.” Sampson also took Lamont’s speech as a sign the new governor wants to increase revenues with economic growth, not tax increases.
“I think, more than anything, he has a reality he has to live within, and you can’t just put in all of these policies and expect to get the growth he’s talking about,” Sampson said.
Republicans were also pleased with Lamont’s comments on the budget. Lamont said the state needs to pass a budget that won’t result in deficits during or after the upcoming biennium.
“I like that he acknowledged that it’s not time for excuses anymore, he’s not going to play the blame game,” Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said. “We need to look forward if we’re trying to balance a budget.”
Some Republicans did express concerns. House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said she wants to see how the minimum wage and paid family leave proposals would be administered. She expressed concern that Lamont may give into the demands of the Democrats’ Progressive Caucus.
State Republican Chairman J.R. Romano was more critical, saying that Lamont was trying to appeal to everyone. He doubts Lamont can make good on his promises for a minimum wage hike, paid family leave and infrastructure improvements and avoid a budget increase.
“When you’re in a leadership position, you can’t be all things to all people, and that’s what he’s trying to do,” he said.