Ned Lamont's first day as governor was marked by his honest assessment of Connecticut's challenges and a promise to focus on job and economic growth.
"This is our chance to reinvent Connecticut, to think big and act boldly," the newly inaugurated governor told a joint session of the General Assembly Jan. 9.
"Connecticut's entrepreneurial zip has slipped. We are no longer a place that is viewed as hospitable or encouraging to new businesses.
"Connecticut needs to harness its prime location, its highly educated workforce, and its business community to create the Connecticut of tomorrow.
"As one of the first governors who comes from the business world, I will be hyper-focused on job creation.
"My primary objective is to get this economy growing again."
CBIA president and CEO Joe Brennan said "there were an awful lot of positive things to build on" in the governor's opening day address to the legislature.
"Governor Lamont's recognition that economic growth must play a key part in solving the state's fiscal problems was very promising," Brennan said.
"He talked about being hyper-focused on job creation and the importance of economic growth.
"Growth won't solve all our problems, but it certainly will go a long way to addressing our fiscal issues, putting more people to work, attracting new investment, and creating more opportunities."
Both Democratic and Republican legislative leaders welcomed the tone and theme of Lamont's remarks.
"I thought it was an appeal to everybody," House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin) said. "It put the burden on us to all be part of the solution."
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano (R-North Haven) said Lamont "wants to do the right thing for the state."
"Any time you have a person who is coming in who looks at the world a little bit differently, in a more inclusive atmosphere, it's better for government," Fasano said.
The fate of our great state is on a knife's edge. If we choose inaction and more of the same—we fail.
"I have hope that his perspective and his experiences in business give him a more realistic perspective on what we have to do in this state."
Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney (D-New Haven) said he was pleased with Lamont's call for greater consolidation of municipal government services.
"It is going to become increasingly financially necessary," Looney said. "We can't continue operating the way we always have."
Lamont's first major action as governor comes next month, when he presents his tax and spending plan to the legislature, a demanding task given the state's projected $4 billion, two-year budget deficit.
"We can't afford to let the next four years be defined by a fiscal crisis," he said.
"Fix the budget, invest in the future, and nothing can stop us."
He promised to deliver "a budget which is in balance not just for a year, but for the foreseeable future," adding that his plan will not include "more funny math or budgetary gamesmanship."
"The fate of our great state is on a knife's edge," Lamont said. "If we choose inaction and more of the same—we fail.
"A lot of positive things to build on," says Joe Brennan, including the governor's focus on job creation and workforce development, and his recognition that economic growth is key to solving state's fiscal crisis. https://t.co/UBWCQCjF4I
— CBIA (@CBIANews) January 10, 2019
"But if we choose creative and bold leadership, a commitment to make the hard and difficult choices necessary to right the wrongs of the past—we will succeed.
"Let's fix this damn budget, once and for all!"
Lamont warned his proposed budget will include difficult choices, and called for collaborative efforts to address the state's looming deficits.
"The budget vote will be a tough one, no doubt," he said. "It will be easy to vote no, but I have a responsibility to get us to yes—and we only get there by working together.
"And, please don't tell me you've done your share and it's somebody else's turn. It's all of our turns."
'Change the Game'
While Connecticut's post-recession economic growth has trailed the region and the country, private sector job creation accelerated in the last 12 months and the latest GDP numbers show consecutive quarters of expansion.
Brennan noted the state legislature's pivot over the last two years away from tax hikes and workplace mandates positively impacted the state's economy.
"Everything the governor said about the budget—knowing we can't fix it overnight, putting a plan in place that will put us on a much better fiscal path—those are the things the business community wants to hear," Brennan said.
As one of the first governors who comes from the business world, I will be hyper-focused on job creation.
Lamont told lawmakers it was time to "change the game," saying his administration will focus on four priorities: digitizing government operations and services; investing in cities to attract millennials, talent, and business; modernizing the state's transportation infrastructure; and developing tomorrow's workforce.
He reiterated his campaign promises to implement paid family and medical leave and increase the state's hourly minimum wage to $15.
The governor also signaled that he will explore state employee pension and benefit reforms and greater regionalization of municipal services and programs.
"As our liabilities continue to grow faster than our assets, together we have to make the changes necessary to ensure that retirement security is a reality for our younger, as well as our older, state employees, and do that without breaking the bank," he said.
Lamont told lawmakers that many municipal "services and back-office functions can be delivered at a much lower cost and much more efficiently if they are operated on a shared or regional basis."
"We need to break down silos and engage in the bulk purchasing of everything from healthcare to technology," he said.
"The taxpayers of Connecticut can no longer afford to subsidize inefficiency."