Five ideas for Ned Lamont to fix our state
After the election, Gov.-elect Ned Lamont promised a fresh start for Connecticut and struck a tone of bipartisanship, noting that he had reached out to legislative leaders in both parties.
This was encouraging, since more than half the voters in our state did not vote for Lamont and many worry that his election as governor, along with large majorities for Democrats in both houses of the General Assembly, will mean the next four years in Connecticut will be much like the last eight.
Regardless of who we supported, all of us want to see our state succeed. Here are some ideas to improve our state that could be adopted by a Democratically dominated legislature with strong leadership from Gov.-elect Lamont:
Taxes: Enact revenue neutral tax reform that stimulates growth.
The number of days Connecticut residents must work to pay their taxes is the second longest of any state and businesses labor under a tax code ranked in the bottom 10. Residents and businesses worry that a Democratic governor and Democratic legislature will compound the problem by raising taxes to close the predicted $2 billion annual budget deficit.
In North Carolina, the business community commissioned the non-partisan Tax Foundation to provide options for tax reform to improve competitiveness with no change in overall revenues and collaborated with state officials to adopt landmark legislation. Any change to Connecticut’s taxes should include this type of reform.
Regulations: Convene a commission to propose elimination or modification of regulations.
State government mandates and rules increase the costs of living, doing business and operating local governments. Gov.-elect Lamont should insist that legislation that increases the minimum wage or mandates paid family medical leave also provide employers regulatory relief at least as great to preserve jobs.
Transportation Infrastructure: Use private-public partnerships to rebuild our roads, airports and railroads.
While charging a user fee for roads through tolls seems sensible, Connecticut residents are incensed that our transportation infrastructure is so poor despite bearing such a high overall tax burden. Taxpayers do not trust that a toll would be used solely for our transportation infrastructure, nor do they trust that additional funds would be spent efficiently by the Department of Transportation.
Florida formed a public-private partnership to overcome gridlock on I-95 in Miami. The partnership constructed two lanes that reverse direction at rush hour. Funding for construction came from charging congestion-based pricing only in those new lanes. Motorists still have a toll-free option and traffic speed has increased for all.
Unfunded Government Employee Re
tirement Liabilities: Negotiate a one-time buyout of legacy liabilities with a lump sum payment and a new plan administered by public employee unions.
Connecticut’s chronic budget deficit is the consequence of massive unfunded state employee and teacher retirement liabilities. Until retirement plans are restructured, our budget will not balance, state employees will not be secure in their retirement and our economy will not grow to its full potential.
The Big Three auto companies and the United Auto Workers faced a similar problem in the 2000s — promises for health benefits exceeded the companies’ ability to pay. Management offered the union a one-time payment that the unions would administer in a benefit plan of their design. The union accepted and the money set aside protected workers’ health benefits during the global financial crisis that hit the auto companies.
Education: Replace the state’s education funding system, which has 11 different formulas based on the type of school with a single unified system. An equal amount of state funding would follow each child to whichever public school that child attends.
We are failing too many of our children. Connecticut has the highest achievement gap in the country between our top and bottom performing public schools. Public schools of all kinds — local neighborhood, vocational, magnet or charter — should receive resources tied to each child, so families can choose the school they prefer.
While these proposals do not represent all the policies that I believe are needed to save Connecticut, they are a starting point to find common ground. Let’s hope that Gov.-elect Lamont and the Democratic legislature have the courage to take the bold actions needed to save our state from a looming financial crisis and build a solid foundation for future generations.