By Scott Benjamin
FAIRFIELD — The reviews would have canceled the premiere of a high-profile network television series before the Nielsen overnights had been posted.
State Rep. Bob Godfrey (D-110) of Danbury told Patch.com last September that Gov. Ned Lamont (D-Greenwich) is “naïve” . . . “not in touch” . . . and “a little cavalier.”
Southern Connecticut State University Political Science Professor Jonathan Wharton wrote in January at CTNewsJunkie that the 89th governor of the Nutmeg State has “made himself the Charlie Brown of political punting as his messaging has wavered” on his plans to install tolls to pay for road and bridge improvements.
CT Mirror Capitol Bureau Chief Mark Pazniokas said last December on the WTNH-TV Ch-8 New Haven “Capitol Report” that Lamont has accomplishments, but too often he has presented himself as a “bemused observer.”
However, years ago MLB network sportscaster Bob Costas said of the only player to win 10 World Series rings: “They say Dumb Yogi. He’s married to an attractive woman, he’s made a bundle of money off of television commercials and he has a museum named after him.”
They say Naïve Ned?
– He has installed a debt diet to trim $700 million a year in bond appropriations. Although, it appears due to negotiations on transportation infrastructure improvements, that figure will be reduced. Nevertheless, he had been credited with holding the line on bonding more than any governor since Lowell Weicker (ACP-Lyme).
– The rainy-day fund is approaching $2.5 billion, about 13 percent of operational costs. Lamont, who ran a company that provided cable television to college campuses, said the state has upgraded its credit rating.
– Rich Dupont, who two years ago sought the Republican nomination in the Fifth Congressional District and is an advanced manufacturing consultant, told Patch.com that after Lamont appointed aerospace executive Colin Cooper as the state’s first Chief Manufacturing Officer there is much more collaboration on job growth between the state Departments of Labor, Education and Economic & Community Development. Dupont said that he is also encouraged by the initial efforts of a commission on workforce issues.
– Patch.com has reported that Lamont got the $43.4 billion two-year state budget approved last June, on schedule, and even, according to some Republicans, with fewer “red flags” than predecessor Dannel Malloy (D-Essex).
– Greenwich hedge fund manager Ray Dalio, the richest man in Connecticut, and a friend of Lamont’s, provided $100 million to improve the public schools. The program has been controversial because of its alleged lack of transparency. However, it is money that wasn’t there more than a year ago.
– Some first selectmen and mayors have said they’ve met multiple times in person with Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz (D-Middletown) and she even calls them to check in. Lamont and Bysiewicz formed a partnership shortly before the 2018 state Democratic convention, and she has generally been considered an asset, according to some legislators.
– CT Mirror has reported that former senior IBM executive Josh Gabelle, the commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services, has begun ambitious plans to fully digitize state operations and eliminate paper.
– Lamont has continued to fully fund the pensions annually, as Malloy did, after the state employee and public school teachers pensions were under-funded every year from 1939 through 2010.
– CT Mirror has reported that the Department of Economic & Community Development has revised the incentives that were used in Malloy’s First Five Plus program to keep and attract new jobs to Connecticut. Former Goldman Sachs executive David Lehman of Greenwich, who was appointed last year, has said the costs per job will be $5.000 to $10,000 rather than the average of $16,000 per job under Malloy.
– Just recently, Lamont has pledged millions of dollars for affordable housing in a state with the fifth highest home-owners costs in the nation.
“Those things weren’t hard,” said Gary Rose, the Sacred Heart University Government Department chairman and the author in 2019 of “Connecticut In Crisis, (Academica Press, 302 Pages), which chronicles the Nutmeg State’s fiscal obstacles and the 2018 gubernatorial campaign.
Attorney Roger Pearson – who is a former First Selectman of Greenwich and was the agent for tennis Hall of Famer Ivan Lendl when he was collecting Grand Slam trophies – has said, “Be careful about what you’re remembered for. . . Lyndon Johnson for Vietnam and Richard Nixon for Watergate.”
“You associate the Lamont governorship with his policy on tolls,” Rose said in an interview.
Godfrey and Wharton have told Patch.com the governor’s struggle with getting support for tolls to support a crumbling transportation infrastructure could become the watershed issue in the 2020 election.
The diary: In February 2018 – about five weeks after launching his gubernatorial campaign – Lamont told Patch.com that he supported all vehicles tolls. During the convention, primary and general election campaigns he said he only supported tolls on commercial trucks.
In February 2019 he wrote a column for CT Hearst indicating that the commercial trucks tolls wouldn’t generate enough money to address the congestion choke points and repave the existing roads. The General Assembly hadn’t voted on that package by the June adjournment
Lamont then set out to get low-interest federal loans to pay for part of the project. Then he said there would be just 14 gantries. In October, when the Democratic state Senate caucus couldn’t provide enough support, he revised his plans again.
By November he wanted to toll just the commercial trucks. In December, Lamont and the Democratic legislative leaders were in agreement and said a vote would be held in January. A forum was held in January in Westport. There was a public hearing at the state Capitol in late January, but instead of holding a tentatively scheduled vote in special session a day or two before the regular session opened on February 5, action was delayed again.
Then, to ensure enough “Yes” votes would be present, the issue was tabled to the week of February 10.
“I don’t think that the toll issue has been sold to the public in an effective way,” said Rose, who was a panelist at gubernatorial candidate debates in 2018. “There has not been an open discussion with the public. I think [Lamont] was a little idealistic and that he was going to ram through some big plans.”
After more than a year of No Tolls protests it might be difficult to boast that any toll plan that gets approved by the General Assembly would represent the largest investment in Connecticut’s transportation infrastructure since former Gov. Bill O’Neill (D-East Hampton) responded to the 1983 collapse of the Mianus River Bridge in Greenwich.
The late Theodore White, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Making Of The President” series and a Bridgewater resident, wrote in 1982 In “American In Search Of Itself” (Harper & Row Publishers, 465 Pages) that former Democratic President Jimmy Carter announced in April 1977 that the “energy crisis was the moral equivalent of war” and got scant credit for his package because it took nearly three years before he could sign it.
“What we’re seeing here is a real work in progress,” Rose said of Lamont. “I think he’s been surprised at how much politicking goes on.”
However, Rose also said the Republicans “didn’t come up with a [tolls] plan that would sell.”
Last spring they wanted to use bond appropriations and then in the fall the state Senate Republicans called for using money from the rainy day fund.
Madison financial executive Bob Stefanowski, the 2018 Republican gubernatorial nominee, told WTIC Radio in late fall that he would have had each state commission cut their budget by one percent to raise revenue for the roads and bridges.
However, the Lamont Administration already took a similar step to balance the current budget because it is $58.8 million in deficit.
Rose said, “[The Republican proposals] seemed like very superficial responses.”
Last November, U.S. News & World Report stated that Lamont had said the tractor trailer tolls would generate $250 million annually while tolls on all vehicles, the plan he promoted last winter, would net $950 million.
Said Rose, “I see little opportunity for new and bold infrastructure projects given the governor’s compromised toll plan. The amount of money projected from his trucks only proposal does not seem sufficient in my view to truly improve the dire condition of CT’s roads and bridges.”
In his book, Rose wrote that a 2017 report from the American Society of Engineers found that 57 percent of Connecticut’s roads were in poor condition, the highest percentage of any state.
Some legislators have said they fear a tolls plan on tractor trailers could be found illegal pending a federal court case on a similar plan that is in place in Rhode Island.
“That’s hard to answer,” said Rose. “I’ve heard very different views on how the Rhode Island case will impact Connecticut, should truck-only tolls be approved. The policies are so similar, that I’m inclined to suggest that the Rhode Island case will in fact have bearing on our own state. I don’t see how one can differentiate the two states.”
On another topic, Rose said Lamont also hasn’t followed through on another campaign pledge.
“Property tax reform hasn’t happened,” the professor said.
However, Democrats have discussed property tax reform since at least former state Comptroller Bill Curry’s 1994 gubernatorial campaign and have nothing to show for it.
“Property taxes are the biggest taxes small businesses pay,” Curry said in a 2018 interview with Patch.com.
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities has made property tax reform a priority for the 2020 legislative session.
Rose said, “I think the special interests at the state Capitol, some of which are ingrained, have prevented governors from enacting property tax reform, along with mandatory spending obligations. Lamont called for property tax reform but likely realized upon taking office that so much of the budget can’t be touched, while the discretionary portion of the budget is not only too small to enact serious property tax reform but is also controlled to a significant extent by lobbyists and special interests with deep ties to the legislature.”
“As a consequence, property tax reform has been relegated to a marginal issue,” Rose continued. “For these reasons,neither Lamont or Malloy have been able to touch this issue while in office.”
Rose said he still agrees with his evaluation of last August, when he told Patch.com that of the chief executive typologies developed by the late James David Barber, the Duke University presidential scholar, Lamont is in the “active positive,” the best one.
Those leaders usually enjoy their position, are adaptive, are rational, but due to their rational thinking sometimes have trouble understanding the irrational dimensions of politics.
“That doesn’t mean he has a full grasp,” Rose said of Lamont being an active-positive. “He doesn’t have the skill set you need to have in a big way for legislation, but he’s developing in that area.”
Barber, who had earlier taught at Yale, wrote that former presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter were active-positives and neither of them annexed a second term.
The late Louis Koenig, the New York University presidential scholar, advocated for a strong president in his 1975 (Third Edition) book, “The Chief Executive” (Harcourt Brace Jovanowich, 452 Pages), and identified three types – literalist, the strong president and middle ground.
He wrote that William Taft and, to a degree, Dwight Eisenhower were among the literalists who too often “permit undue sacrifice of power and strength.”
Koenig stated that the strong presidents – such as Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt – were “precedent-makers” and “precedent-breakers.”
He wrote that many presidents are middle ground, uniting elements of each of the other types.
Applying those same categories to a governor, Rose said, “I think Lamont is middle ground. He’s not a strong governor and he’s not a literalist.”
He has not taken major steps yet toward addressing a state employee pension system that is only 29 percent funded, according to the March 2018 report from the state Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Competitiveness.
Tackling that challenge might make the tolls debate seem meager in comparison.
“Connecticut In Crisis” was published more than seven months ago. Does the title still apply?
Rose said, “It is still in crisis.”
- Public can comment on proposed new TCAS university application system
- DA caucus says Public Protector’s report on Zille must go to ‘another post box’
- Watler says public consultations key to Constitution changes
- Public Consultation For IRP Proposal Extended
- Great Smokies takes public comment on historic proposal to allow EBCI to harvest sochan
- Public comments sought on proposed plan to speed rebuild of Mound Road
- EU's Verhofstadt says initial reaction to UK proposals 'not positive'
- What you're saying: Public schools, JPS and Jessica Chambers
- Pelosi says public opinion shifting in support of impeachment inquiry
- Bartaco hepatitis lawsuit: Eatery says public vaccines ineligible for class-action