2024 State of the State Address, Governor Ned Lamont delivered at the State Capitol, Hall of the House of Representatives on February 7, 2024:
Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Senator Kelly, Representative Candelora, Senator Duff, Representative Rojas, members of the General Assembly, Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz, my fellow state officials, honored guests, and the people of the great State of Connecticut.
Eight months ago, we passed – on a strongly bipartisan basis – a two-year budget which, unlike most of our peer states, is still the black.
That budget makes our state’s largest ever commitment to childcare, K-12 education, our universities, workforce training, and not-for-profits.
At the same time, our budget provided a 10% tax cut for the middle-class families and a bigger tax credit for working families and essential workers.
And people are noticing. Unlike our neighboring states which are losing population, Connecticut has gained population over the last few years. Today we have more people working, more people starting businesses, more people joining labor unions with better pay and better benefits, more of our graduates staying in Connecticut, and more out-of-staters wanting to move here.
One warning sign: we have too many people who cannot find a place to live – it is not available, or it is not affordable. Our biennial budget doubles our investment in housing – workforce housing, affordable housing, supportive housing, elder housing, and downtown apartments.
Most of our cities were much bigger 50 years ago, and what was once housing became parking lots and crumbling brownstones.
Today, multi-family housing is being built on empty parking lots and in half empty office buildings, and old brownfields are being remediated into a new community where your child or grandparent can afford to live.
Why reinvent the wheel? We have a development model that works under the leadership of Mike Freimuth, who leads the Capitol Region Development Authority, which leverages the financial layer cake of state and federal dollars with private monies, which means more housing is being built faster at less cost.
In the Hartford region alone, over 5,000 homes have been built or soon to be built.
We are taking this model across the state, and we will be looking for input from towns and cities – where do you want the housing to be, what is the density, and how far are you from public transportation and schools? The state will be your partner in completing the financing ASAP to get that shovel in the ground.
Meriden is a great case in point. What was once a bankrupt shopping center and empty parking lot is now a beautiful park, and 250 new units of housing have been built, all a short walk to the refurbished train station.
Downtown New London has seen more new housing built in the last four years than in the previous 14 years combined.
New families have moved from New York to Stamford to Norwalk to Shelton, up the Naugatuck Valley to Waterbury, one of our fastest growing cities. More frequent and convenient two-way rail from Bridgeport to Waterbury is turbocharging this renaissance.
The federal infrastructure law is especially important to Connecticut, given our aging transportation system. Now, commuter rail will be 25 minutes faster from New Haven into Grand Central and Penn Station. Bridgeport will be as close to New York City as Stamford is today by rail.
Each new rail bridge can save two to three minutes per ride, as trains will no longer have to slow down to travel over 100-year-old bridges. Count how many bridges you cross on your commute and figure out how much time you saved.
Our transportation fund is replenished so Connecticut can better compete for the competitive grants. We’re punching above our weight class, thanks to Garrett Eucalitto.
Our workforce program is partnering with the building trades to make sure that quality workers are ready to go.
The more housing built around these transportation centers, the more frequent the rail service.
Seila Mosquera-Bruno, commissioner of Housing, knows that the biggest driver of high costs in our state is the cost of housing. If you already own a home, you may be doing great, but a lack of housing drives up costs for everybody else and increases the risk of homelessness.
To combat this, Seila is converting old hotels, motels, and commercial properties into temporary housing, and she is also leading our interagency task force on homelessness.
Housing is more than a roof over your head. Thanks to your extra $350 million commitment to mental health, we are providing addiction and mental health services in supportive housing. Where’s Nancy Navarretta? Soon you will be ready for job training. Where is Kelli Vallieres?
We are one of the densest states in the country – more people per square mile – so we have to manage our growth carefully. What do we want Connecticut to look like in 2035?
Our cities are coming back big time. We are preserving open space – over 11,000 acres preserved in the last five years alone.
Katie Dykes and the team at DEEP are supporting hundreds of miles of bike and hiking trails across Connecticut, connecting our downtowns to our great outdoors.
But you better check the weather. Our state and our country are being hit by more severe and more unpredictable weather than ever before.
Last summer, the Connecticut River Valley required extra irrigation due to severe draught, and one week later the crops were under water following torrential down pours.
The cost of dealing with climate change is expensive, the cost of doing nothing is immeasurable. Flood insurance in Florida is prohibitive. Arizona’s water crisis is shutting down more development. Wildfires from California to Canada are smoking out many a sunny day in Connecticut.
We must continue working together to keep our energy system reliable, affordable, and less toxic. Most of our energy supply is carbon free, thanks in large part to nuclear power, but we have also doubled down on wind and solar and hydropower.
Thanks to our energy efficiency efforts, our demand for electricity has not increased much this century, and thanks to Bryan Garcia and the Green Bank we are able to make your home more efficient, more energy self-sufficient, saving you hundreds a of dollars per year and not adding a whit to air pollution.
However, from super computers and data centers to hybrid and electric vehicles, we know that modern technology will slowly put more demands upon the grid. I am working with my neighboring governors as we source the next generation of clean energy with an emphasis upon affordability. I would welcome insights from the energy and environment committees as we weigh our options.
Sadly, it is not just the weather that is becoming more extreme. Our culture is unleashing more extreme behavior, be it expressions of racism and hate speech, increased domestic abuse and fentanyl overdoses, with a sad surge in mental health calls starting younger and younger.
Our budget provides more security for houses of worship to counter rising threats, and more cops on the beat. But the extreme behavior reflects something more profound.
Our budget is doing more. How can we do a better job directing our resources to make a difference in people’s lives, turning hopelessness into hope, hardship into opportunity.
The DSS Service Centers, where you can get your SNAP benefits or Medicaid renewals, are being transformed into opportunity centers, where one desk over you can be linked into a workforce training program, with the necessary childcare and rent relief supports to make your next job a reality.
That training should get you a better job with better pay, and we are proposing paid sick days, so you don’t have to show up sick to keep the job you need.
Our budget provides the biggest commitment to childcare in our history, an additional $90 million next year alone, providing additional pay for early childhood educators and higher reimbursement for our centers and family care homes – all following the recommendations from our blue-ribbon panel. Thank you, Beth Bye.
Our budget continues to provide incentives for more companies to follow Electric Boat’s lead, which is partnering with the Navy and matching Connecticut’s commitment to support more childcare in southeast Connecticut, making it easier for EB to recruit or retain new moms and dads, and a better start for their newborn.
Our budget provides resources to help caregivers get certified and set up their own home-based childcare center. Hats off to Maria Amado. Thanks to our state funding, Maria was able to serve many more children in her home-based center.
We have eliminated licensing fees and red tape, and the Social Equity Council is prioritizing childcare and homeless shelters in those communities that were hardest hit by the war on drugs. We are providing home visits by experienced nurses for first-time parents in Bridgeport, that’s just for starters.
Our expanded childcare feeds into our nation’s best K-12 education system – our budget provides more. Let’s make sure we are doing better for our kids. Our teachers and paras need help, and our kids still need some catching up.
Charlene Russell-Tucker over at SDE continues to create a talent pipeline that will address teacher shortages by expanding our Ed Rising program, where high school-age kids help out in elementary classrooms.
Danté Bartolomeo at Labor is expanding our teacher apprentice program, so the next generation of teachers, including Tanner Callahan from CCSU, who is joining the Waterbury Public School apprentice program, get paid to assist in K-12 classrooms. That means extra attention for that student who may be feeling lost.
In addition to our expanding ECS funding, our schools still have an additional $400 million in federal relief money to invest over the next two years. We will continue to fund the LEAP program, as we get more and more of our kids who got disconnected from school during the pandemic back in the classroom, and thankfully our chronic absence rate is dropping.
For those feeling deeply alone, be they vets or teenagers, Susan Bysiewicz is focused on rejuvenating social and community connections, and our budget continues the popular summer enrichment program, after-school programs, and expanded free school meals. It’s tough to learn on an empty stomach.
There is one more distraction in the elementary school classroom: social media.
Where increasingly kids on the smartphones are tuning out each other, tuning out learning, and tuning into unfiltered images which can be fun or disturbing. Some of the severe anxiety and aberrant behavior can be traced back to social media – the smack-a-teacher TikTok comes to mind, which shut down one of our schools.
William Tong is pushing the social media companies to better protect our kids, and Senator Maroney will try to put an end to deep fakes.
Here is my idea, little bit from China and a little bit from Beyoncé. China limits TikTok for children to one hour a day, and Beyoncé makes you leave your smartphone in a Yondr pouch before certain major events. We will be sending out guidance to your school board – have your younger students leave their smartphones at home or drop them in a Yondr pouch at the start of every school day.
Social media is often anti-social, and too much smart phone makes you stupid. Start the day listening to your teacher and playing with your friends, not your phone.
We are trying to make the path to college easier as well. The top 30% of every high school graduating class now has auto-enrollment into CSCU, as well as many private colleges, and the recently simplified FAFSA tells you what if any out-of-pocket cost there will be.
This budget is making our largest state grants ever to our state colleges and UConn. Seize the opportunity.
Speaking of UConn, this budget allocates money for the design and engineering for a new life sciences center at Storrs.
I am excited to announce that UConn and Yale are collaborating on quantum computing, super-fast computing. Quantum technologies will allow our biotech sector to develop therapies, more effectively at less cost, and to conduct faster and more thorough clinical trials.
Connecticut has led the world in advanced manufacturing. Now, we can accelerate the growth in life sciences, starting with funding for a world-class bio tech hub in New Haven.
Of course, healthcare only makes a difference if it is accessible and affordable. Deidre Gifford is building off our healthcare bench marking to hold hospitals, insurance, and pharma accountable for big price increases.
We have more of our citizens with health insurance than ever before. The expansion of Covered Connecticut provides free healthcare with no out-of-pocket expenses for all parents earning less than $50,000; big discounts for middle class families on the exchange; and the Array Rx card can provide savings on drugs from 20% to 80%. Thank you, Comptroller Scanlon.
Speaking of affordability, our tax credit for working families and $400 million tax cut for middle-class families should be adding about $25 per paycheck. Our income tax is less than our neighboring states, and less than most sunbelt states for the majority of our workers.
We have eliminated the tax on pensions and 401(k)s for most retirees, and we have eliminated the estate tax for 99% of our citizens.
We still have work to do on the property tax, which hits residents on fixed incomes the hardest. Our budgets continue to do more. We recently increased and expanded the property tax credit, reduced the car tax, and our state aid to municipalities is more than ever.
Our budget is doing more, but we must also focus on doing better.
Local government spread across 169 towns and 200 school districts is too damn expensive. I will avoid the word “regionalize,” which went over like a lead balloon a few years back. Instead, our budget provides additional flexibility for our COGs to hire tax assessors, building inspectors, purchasing agents, IT nerds, which your town may not be able to afford full-time and your COG can make available on a contract/as needed basis. That should save you money and provide the skills as needed, not full-time.
Like too many of our citizens, Connecticut in years past was living paycheck to paycheck with too much debt and no room for error. Today, in addition to making our regular payments to the pension fund we have paid down an extra $8 billion, saving taxpayers about $800 million every year for the next 25 years that can be dedicated to critical services, and we have added thousands of new taxpayers, which further strengthens our budget and our future.
Paying down our debts and a robust rainy day fund doesn’t short change our programs, it has resulted in six years of consistent increases in our key social programs, rather than the herky-jerky boom and bust cycles of yesteryear.
Our budget is trying to provide the same security for our citizens, not just creating opportunity but building wealth.
Senator Winfield likes to remind me, “People will need fewer second chances if we give them more first chances.”
For starters, too many of our citizens are under water with debt. Our budget pays companies to pay down your student debt, starting with your first job.
Our budget will pay down over $650 million in medical debt – debt that can hang over you like a dark cloud. With less debt, you’re in a better position to take advantage of debt-free community college and free workforce training, which allows you to earn more.
Building wealth starts with ownership. We have provided funding alongside the private sector to support over one thousand small business startups over the last few years, mostly owned by women and entrepreneurs of color. These companies are on your Main Street and may employ a few of your neighbors as well, all with a stake in the community. Those empty shop windows are coming to life.
In addition, our Time to Own program helps you make a down payment on your first home, already benefiting over 3,000 first-time homeowners right in the neighborhood they love, in nearly every town in the state.
If your baby is born under HUSKY, our first-in-the nation statewide Baby Bonds program will provide a little extra boost, more than $10,000 after she turns 18 to help with college tuition, that new home, that new business.
Just like Evan Calderon, who is among the first babies to receive Baby Bonds. Stay in Connecticut, it is worth the wait. Thank you, Treasurer Russell.
One thing I ask in return: Vote. It makes a difference. Our Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas is making early voting a reality. Your vote means that our budget is a reflection of your values.
And by the way, we have a budget. Hartford is not Washington, D.C., where they have a hard time even deciding upon a speaker, a budget. And they do not even try to balance a budget.
Maybe in D.C., partisans should be required to check their smartphones in the Yondr pouch before entering the Capitol. They seem to be talking at each other. In this room, we try to keep talking with each other. It is making a positive difference in people’s lives, which is why we do what we do.