Gov. Ned Lamont delivered his second State of the State address to the General Assembly on Wednesday, the opening day of this year’s short legislative session.
The reintroduction of the governor’s signature tolling initiative -- now entering its second year at the top of the administration’s wish list -- got only a passing mention in the speech, with Lamont urging legislators to a quick decision on his new transportation funding bill.
“I know it’s the elephant in the room,” the governor ad-libbed. “But we also know ... that if we don’t speed up, our economy’s going to continue to slow down.”
His scaled-back proposal, to toll trucks on 12 bridges around the state, has yet to attract any support from Republicans in either chamber.
“You are in the room where it happens, so let’s vote to get this state moving again,” said Lamont, once again borrowing a favorite line from the Broadway hit Hamilton.
“I can do it right now -- can I have a show of hands?” he said, to laughter around the chamber.
The governor cast another potentially hugely controversial policy proposal -- the legalization of recreational marijuana -- as an appeal to common sense.
“Right now, what you can buy legally in Massachusetts could land you in prison for up to a year in Connecticut,” he said. “We just marked the 100th anniversary of prohibition. How did that work out? This patchwork of cannabis and vaping laws -- they’re impossible to enforce.”
Lamont also seemed to link the current scare over the coronavirus to controversy over vaccinations.
“With infectious viruses threatening our nation and state from overseas, now more than ever, a thoughtful vaccination program is vital to keep our families safe,” he said, referencing an effort underway to remove the religious exemption from mandatory vaccinations for kids attending public schools.
Aside from these issues, all of which stymied the last legislative session, Lamont also wants to see a focus on housing and health care.
While his administration is expected to propose new funding for affordable housing, the speech focused on incentivizing communities to create transit-oriented development, building housing close to transportation hubs like train stations.
“Let’s make sure that our teachers, police officers, fire fighters and child care providers can afford to live in the communities they serve,” said Lamont.
He also wants to curb the cost of health care, modeling a new program on one already implemented in Massachusetts that sets a ceiling on spending, and proposing to work with other states to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada.
Early in the address, the governor listed what he sees as his first-year achievements, beginning with the state’s fiscal situation. He touted his administration’s success in boosting the state’s Rainy Day fund as a way to protect services and vulnerable residents, and insulate taxpayers through the next economic downturn.
He also noted a change in tone from the media and ratings agencies on the state’s fiscal health, saying outlooks have been upgraded, and former critics are giving the state a second look.
Still, he spoke of what he said is the need to reset the state’s relationship with the business community, noting that he’s used his own business background to reach out to companies across the state.
“I enjoy moving from the boardroom to the shop floor to the brew pub,” said Lamont. “I love getting to know these businesses, know their employees, what they proudly build every day and what they need in order to keep calling Connecticut home.”
And he name-checked a few, including Indian IT giant Infosys, which has brought an innovation hub to downtown Hartford, and World Wrestling Entertainment, which is about to take over the former RBS building in Stamford.
Lamont also spoke of some legislative milestones achieved last year, noting the passage of a $15 minimum wage law, along with paid family leave and expanded access to financial help with child care.
Winding up the 45-minute address, the governor widened his focus to speak about a rise in hate crimes and attacks on immigrants around the nation.
“I don’t want to see any of that poison leaking closer to our home here in Connecticut,” he said. “I’ve met with rabbis who fear the attacks on their synagogues and the Jewish community, wondering what happened to the America they love and felt so safe in. I just remind people, an attack on your synagogue, an attack on your mosque is an attack on my church. We’re family, we stand up against attacks like that.”
“That’s not what Connecticut’s about, and that’s not what America’s about,” he said, to some of the most sustained applause heard through the speech.