victories or defeats? Session creates template for campaigns

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont made it clear Thursday, the day after the General Assembly adjourned, that he will fight for what he believes will be major gains from the 2022 legislative session, ranging from “historic” tax cuts to new funds for children rich nursing services.

However, Republicans are likely to work to ensure that these perceived achievements fell far short of what they think voters want.

“This is a bumper sticker budget for the Democrats for November. It’s not a budget designed for the future well-being of the state of Connecticut,” House Minority Chairman Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said, referring to Democrats’ claims that the tax cuts and loans amounting to around 600 million US dollars are the largest in state history. The list ranges from extending the 25-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax holiday through December to creating a new, year-long child tax credit.

“Yes, you can message that,” Candelora said. “But if people don’t feel it in their pockets, that becomes a problem for them.”

The election season officially begins on Friday, when Democrats and Republicans gather for their respective two-day conventions to endorse candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, the US Senate and other state constitutional offices.

Lamont, who is expected to gain his party’s support on Saturday in Hartford, said he plans to argue that Connecticut’s financial picture is improving significantly after years of state budget deficits, daunting unfunded pension liabilities, sluggish revenues, cuts in state programs and workers have concessions from state employees and the depletion of the state’s rainy day fund to make up the deficits.

The revised $24.2 billion annual budget awaiting Lamont’s signature benefited from $1 billion in federal aid and a $4.8 billion surplus. The plan provides an additional $3.6 billion to reduce unfunded pension obligations, in addition to about $1.6 billion in additional payments made last year that Democrats predict will be made in the will save $444 million annually over the next 25 years.

As of 2021, the state employee pension plan was 44.5% funded, while the teachers’ pension plan liability was 51.3% funded as of 2020, the latest figures available from the Office of Policy and Management.

“What a difference four years make. Four years ago, Susan, I was looking at a (two-year) deficit of $3.8 billion,” Lamont said Thursday, referring to Lt. gov. Susan Bysiewicz, who will also seek party approval on Saturday.

“I think a lot of people appreciate that the state is around the corner. I think a lot of people know that we’ve reeled from crisis to crisis and at least have stabilized the ship,” Lamont said when asked about his expected campaign call with voters. “I think there’s a feeling that we’re starting to make progress. So our job is to make sure we continue to build on those advances.”

Republican businessman Bob Stefanowski, who is expected to receive GOP support Friday night, has already raised questions about how Lamont “magically claims to be a tax-cutter.” tax base and collect state sales tax at 6.35% on a long list of commodity services, in addition to proposing to fund highway tolls as a way to fund transportation.

“The governor’s budget is riddled with election year pandering and will do little to make life easier for residents,” Stefanowski said in a statement. “Next year, my budget will be based on honesty and integrity, and provide for long-term reforms to make it easier for everyone in Connecticut to get by.”

The GOP candidate called for cuts in the sales tax, restaurant and convenience food tax and gross receipts tax on gasoline, arguing that residents need immediate relief from rising inflation.

Meanwhile, Lamont is entering the convention after signing a key legislative bill Thursday that addresses another hot-button campaign issue: abortion.

Abortion rights advocates claim that Connecticut’s new law, which goes into effect July 1, is needed to protect instate medical providers from legal action arising from out-of-state laws, as well as the patients who come to Connecticut travel and those who help them. The legislation also expands who can perform abortions.

Stefanowski has said in a written statement that the draft opinion, which suggests the U.S. Supreme Court may be ready to dismiss the landmark case of Roe v. Wade’s 1973 repeal, “Nothing changes here in Connecticut,” where he said, “A woman’s right to vote is fully protected under state law.”

Democratic Party officials have urged Stefanowski to go further and say whether he supports current state law and whether he would support new restrictions.

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