Time to get ready for hard work ahead
The beginning of a new administration is naturally a time for high hopes, and the inauguration of Gov. Ned Lamont was no exception. Almost everyone found something to like in his opening remarks — business leaders, union heads, municipal officials and even members of the opposition party.
Lamont sounded a tone familiar from his campaign, making a pitch for bringing together the best ideas, no matter who presents them. At the same time came an acknowledgement that tough times are ahead. “The fate of our great state is on a knife’s edge,” he said in his first address to the Legislature on Wednesday. “If we choose inaction and more of the same — we fail.”
This is the unenviable state the governor finds himself in as he takes office. Despite a low unemployment rate, Connecticut is unmistakably facing trouble, with multibillion-dollar deficits on the horizon, a recovery that has never quite kicked into gear since the end of the Great Recession and a general sense that the state is falling behind — not just compared to fast-growing regions in the West and South, but to our Northeastern neighbors.
None of that makes for an easy start.
Still, Lamont and his conciliatory tone have earned him the benefit of the doubt across the political spectrum. “I think this governor has shown a togetherness I haven’t seen in this place in a while,” Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said.
The good feelings aren’t likely to last, because there are no easy answers. The state is in no mood for new taxes, and putting tolls on the highways would not please anyone. Cuts, meanwhile, are always painful somewhere.
Unions, for example, are likely to find their full-throated support for Lamont’s campaign to be rewarded with yet another call for concessions, this following three other rounds of givebacks in the past decade. Leaders say cuts would be more tolerable if it were clear that everyone, including the wealthy and corporations, also faced sacrifice. All that seems likely to happen in some form. Lamont also emphasized one area that is paid constant lip service but too rarely rises to the level of meaningful action — regionalization. In the absence of county government, and with a shortage of sticks for the state to employ to encourage cooperation, each of the 169 towns and cities too often goes its own way, duplicating services and reducing any hope for gaining efficiencies and saving money.
That needs to change. Home rule is something close to sacred in Connecticut, but there is too much at stake to continue as we have been going. To a much larger degree, towns and cities need to merge services, including schools and public safety, to reduce redundancies and cut costs. If they won’t do it voluntarily, the state must force the issue.
It won’t solve all our problems. But demanding better cooperation and savings among communities is a necessary step to right the state.
The good feelings aren’t likely to last, because there are no easy answers. The state is in no
mood for new taxes, and putting tolls on the highways
would not please anyone.