The governors of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts say they’re looking forward to closer cooperation on transportation, renewable energy initiatives and perhaps on purchasing services like IT and healthcare.
Ned Lamont invited his fellow governors Gina Raimondo and Charlie Baker for an informal conference at Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic Tuesday.
At a press conference after the meeting, Raimondo said a lot of their discussion revolved around nuts-and-bolts issues.
"We have to balance budgets, provide healthcare, fix the roads, plow the streets -- none of that's partisan. And so we came together today to say, how can we help each other do our jobs better and deliver for the people of our state," said the Rhode Island governor.
Raimondo and Baker also apparently told the newcomer Lamont to stay the course on the most controversial issue of his first legislative session -- highway tolls.
Tolls have been a fixture in Massachusetts for many years, although Baker's administration had upgraded the state to electronic tolling. Raimondo waged her own battle over tolls and last year was able to implement tolling for trucks only on the Ocean State's highways.
So far Lamont hasn’t managed to push his tolls initiative through the Connecticut legislature, despite what he says are ongoing negotiations for a special session. He said he thought he could learn from his neighbors.
"One piece of advice is, there's a battle, and when the battle is done and you start putting in a transportation infrastructure for the 21st century, the battle goes in the rearview mirror pretty quickly," said Lamont.
The states pledged to work together to improve aging transportation infrastructure, particularly their shared rail lines. Baker said he's preparing to invest $8 billion over the next five years in rail services in Massachusetts. "We have a lot of catching up to do there, there's no question about that," he said.
Raimondo said that work to modernize infrastructure was also work that would forward the aim of tackling climate change. "Electrifying the track from Providence to Boston, for example," she said, "which would make it faster and cleaner, reduces congestion so that would be a potential project."
Lamont said he had lobbied his colleagues on the potential for purchasing services across all three southern New England states, saying it was an opportunity to drive down costs. "I spent a lot of time talking to our local towns saying they can get some extraordinary savings if they think regionally, and we're trying to do the same," he said.
The three emphasized their recent cooperation on building out wind power off the New England coast. Connecticut hopes that the port of New London can be a hub for that industry, and if the project based there comes to fruition it would involve a joint bid from all three states to purchase power from the installation.
Not everything has been running smoothly between the three in recent months however.
Baker was asked to address the controversy at Massachusetts' Registry of Motor Vehicles, where it was revealed that the agency had stopped processing notifications from other states of license violations. The arrest of a driver in Connecticut for refusing a field sobriety test had been reported to the RMV, but it had failed to automatically rescind the man's license. He would go on to be involved in a crash last month which killed seven motorcyclists.
Baker said that since the situation at the RMV came to light last month, the agency has issued some 2,000 license suspensions due to out-of-state notifications. He said the RMV is in the midst of processing outgoing notifications that were also backlogged.
The three say they hope this meeting was the first of more to come. Raimondo has invited her fellow governors to Providence in October.