Time to get ready for hard work ahead

The Norwalk Hour - - OPINION -

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 fullthroated 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.

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