Gov. Ned Lamont kicked off the 2020 legislative session Wednesday with his State of the State Address, highlighting his priorities.
His $22.5 million budget increase includes funding for debt-free community college, and another $1.5 million for organizations that saw their federal funding cut over abortion.
For the second year in a row, the governor also proposes legalizing marijuana.
"We just marked the 100th anniversary of prohibition. How did that work out? The patchwork of cannabis and vaping laws are impossible to enforce," Lamont said during his address.
“Thousands of people of Connecticut are going across the border to buy legal marijuana. It’s foolish to pretend we’re isolating ourselves,” said Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney.
The governor asked the state legislature to fund two permanent positions to create the regulatory framework. Under the governor’s proposal sales wouldn’t be allowed until the year 2022.
“My suggestion is it’s being done because of the 2020 election. Maybe they’re concerned maybe that is not a popular vote out there,” surmised Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano.
On the revenue side, the governor called for a 50 percent tax on vaping and e-cigarettes to match other tobacco products. He proposed banning all flavored vaping products including menthol. A ban seems be getting bipartisan support.
Republicans also praised a plan to keep funding cities and towns and invest in public safety.
“At the very least, the municipal aid that he put in the budget last year is going to be maintained. There’s going to be more state police classes for new troopers and that’s very positive,” said House Minority Leader Themis Klarides.
“The state of our state is strong and it’s getting stronger,” Lamont told lawmakers.
Lamont struck an optimistic tone in front of the general assembly, emphasizing efforts to get the state’s fiscal house in order.
“No more badmouthing the state of Connecticut. This is an amazing state,” he said as lawmakers stood to applause. “The rest of our country is looking at our state in a new light. So should you.”
“That was clearly directed at us because he thinks we’re negative,” said Klarides.
She said Republicans are only being truthful about the challenges that lie ahead.
“Profile in courage is being honest with people about where we are and how we fix it, not just telling them everything’s so great,” Klarides explained.
Democrats said they appreciated the governor’s confidence in the state.
“When he talked about us being cheerleaders for the state of Connecticut is really struck me. I’ve been saying that for the last couple years,” said Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz.
The governor also addressed what he called the elephant in the room: tolls. Democrats want to use trucks-only tolling to raise revenue for needed bridge repairs. Republicans want to use bonding and the rainy day fund.
“You’ve got two plans, you’re in the room where it happens. And that means make it happen by casting a vote making up your mind and getting this going,” he said. “We can do it right now can I have a show of hands?”
Looney said that the vote on tolls that was supposed to happen sometime next week has been pushed back again. He said the delay is due to availability of lawmakers to vote and that staff members have come down with the flu.
He expects the issue to come to a vote the week of February 18.
Republicans said Democrats are delaying the transportation vote because they don’t have enough support. The governor’s plan also includes bonds. Klarides said a bond package was supposed to be released in June of 2019 but she still hasn’t seen one.
“Interestingly enough, everything we’ve seen thus far has not had specific projects in it because as you know the governor made an announcement last week that the bond package would be $1.7 billion and there would be many little different items in there for different people throughout the state. They’re trying to buy off votes now.”
Republicans also expressed disappointment that the governor’s budget included a delay in the phasing out of the corporate tax surcharge and the capital base tax, which were scheduled to sunset in 2021 and 2024 respectively.
Klarides said Lamont’s speech went back on promises he made last year to rein in spending.
“Their way, anytime you need money for anything it’s always to get new revenue and not prioritize the money we have,” she said.
The governor hopes to save the state $5 million a year by charging a service fee to those who use a credit card online to pay for state services. According to the Office of Policy and Management, those fees are currently being passed on from the credit card companies to the state.
The governor’s budget proposal also includes increased money to test mosquitoes after a reoccurrence of EEE last year.
Lamont also proposed a streamlined job creation tax incentive program capped at $40 million annually.
Looney said it’s too early to know which of these new proposals will have traction in the legislature and that anything new to the budget will have to be vetted.