Gov. Ned Lamont, who's seeking reelection in November, unveiled his “Connecticut's Comeback” budget plan on Wednesday that includes tax cuts, financial help for entrepreneurs, additional funding for mental health services and a plan to spend billions of dollars in anticipated federal infrastructure funding.
The Democrat delivered a rosy assessment of Connecticut in his State of the State address to the General Assembly, on opening day of the new legislative session, noting how Connecticut has managed to reverse large budget deficits and is now emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, which is blamed for the deaths of more than 10,000 residents.
“Over the last three years, we were faced with unprecedented challenges _ the types of challenges where people turned to their government for leadership, for answers, for guidance,” Lamont said. “They did so because their lives and the lives of their loved ones depended on it - in ways not seen since the world wars or the Great Depression. Connecticut stepped up - meeting its moment in history when it mattered the most.”
Read the governor's full State of the State Address, as prepared here.
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He noted how his planned revisions to the second year of the two-year, $46.3 billion state budget passed last year, include tax reductions that are possible due to the state's improving fiscal condition. And in a sign that Connecticut is emerging from the pandemic, Lamont reiterated his call to end the statewide mask mandate in schools and child care centers on Feb. 28, saying the state has earned it given Connecticut's high vaccination rates.
Shortly before Lamont's address, lawmakers opened the 2022 legislative session with hopes of returning the state back to normal - as much as possible - following two years of grappling with the pandemic.
Unlike last year, when members of the General Assembly took the oath of office outside, braving frigid cold and hundreds of protesters angry about COVID restrictions, mostly masked state legislators filled the House of Representatives and Senate while just a small group of people opposing mask mandates gathered outside.
“It's good for us to now start out again and try to look to coming out of this pandemic and trying to get this building back to normal,” said House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford.
Even though most lawmakers gathered indoors for opening day ceremonies, there are still pandemic restrictions in place at the state Capitol. Legislative committees are expected to meet remotely through at least the month of February and members of the public are only allowed on the first floor, wearing masks.
The future of the state's remaining COVID restrictions will likely be decided in the coming days. The House is scheduled to vote Thursday, and the Senate on Monday, on Lamont's request to have the General Assembly extend 11 of his remaining COVID-related executive orders. The list includes an order that grants authority to the commissioners of education and public health to set masking rules for schools and child care centers.
Lamont, whose emergency powers expire on Feb. 15, wants the masking order extended until only Feb. 28. At that time, depending on the state's COVID situation, the two commissioners would remove the mandate for schools and child care centers, leaving it up to local officials to decide whether masks are needed.
Besides the future of COVID restrictions, tax cuts, criminal justice reform and a proposed ban on flavored vaping products are among numerous topics lawmakers are expected to take up over the next several months. They're also expected to try and address the continuing fallout of the pandemic, including various labor shortages.
“While the pandemic seems to be easing and we're increasingly optimistic about what the future holds for us, we know that there's so much work to be done as the pandemic continues to impact our families, our schools, our business communities in ways direct and indirect,” said House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford.
Meanwhile, legislators will also have to vote on revisions to the new state budget. This all comes as Lamont and members of the General Assembly face reelection in November.
Bob Stefanowski, a Madison businessman and Republican who ran against Gov. Ned Lamont in 2018, is going to run for governor again.
Republican Susan Patricelli Regan is also running for governor.