HARTFORD - Gov. Ned Lamont welcomed state lawmakers back to the Capitol with a pep talk on Wednesday, touting an improved economy, a more stable state budget and an uptick in economic development.
A plan for highway tolls and a rollout of college and university tuition initiatives were also included in the speech that was released to the media ahead of Lamont’s address.
During his second State of the State Address, the former businessman quoted a succession of recent accolades.
“A year ago, I promised we would work together to ensure Connecticut’s future would no longer be defined by fiscal crisis,” the Democrat told members of the Democratic-controlled General Assembly on opening day of the new three-month, legislative session. He noted how the state now has a record-high budget reserve fund of more than $2.5 billion to weather a future economic storm.
During his speech Lamont turned to issues important to families, those in the minority community and senior citizens.
“I’ve said it before, Connecticut has always had the best-trained, best-educated, most productive workforce in the world, and that starts with the best teachers in the world. Our budget made Connecticut’s largest-ever investment in K-12 education,” the governor said. “With half our students being children of color, Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona and I have prioritized recruiting black and Hispanic teachers and developing courses that showcase the important contributions those communities have made to American history. It doesn’t stop in high school. More and more jobs require post-secondary training, and we are doing more to make higher education more affordable so no student gives up his or her dreams because they cannot afford the cost. Starting this year, UConn will eliminate tuition for all students of families earning less than $50,000 a year, and community college will be debt-free for recent high school grads.”
Late last year, UConn President Thomas Katsouleas announced the tuition initiative during his inauguration stating, “To keep our brightest, most talented and most diverse human capital in Connecticut, we must continue to offer as many of them as possible a high-quality and affordable education in their state.”
The award will be available through the initiative “Connecticut Commitment” for UConn freshmen starting in fall 2020 at all campuses and in all majors, as well as new transfer students.
Katsouleas said eligible students must have a total annual household income of $50,000 or less, as reported on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
To be eligible, students must be Connecticut residents who are seeking their first bachelor’s degree and are enrolled at UConn full-time.
For those planning to attend one of the state’s 12 community colleges, the Pledge to Advance Connecticut Plan was instituted to make community colleges tuition and fee free for many students. Funding for PACT was included in the state’s 2019-20 biennial budget.
“PACT is a powerful message to potential students in Connecticut that education is attainable - and that we are investing in the future of our state,” said Mark Ojakian, Connecticut State Colleges and Universities president, when the policy was adopted in December.
While Lamont’s education goals will be welcome news to families with children, the governor also recognized older Connecticut residents.
“We have made it easier for seniors to stay in the state they love by reducing taxes on social security and pension income, and we’ve provided veterans and volunteer first responders with property tax relief,” Lamont said.
The governor also recognized the rich diversity of the state.
“What I love about Connecticut is not only what we achieve, but also what we value. We celebrated the birthday of Martin Luther King a few weeks ago. I was particularly moved reading his letters home from Simsbury, Connecticut, where he was working for a summer on a tobacco farm as a very young man.
“We see the dysfunction in our nation’s capital. We were shocked by the hate speech from the march in Charlottesville. And I don’t want to see that poison leaking closer and closer to home. As some communities ask for more police protection, I’ve met with many African American ministers who speak of the fear in their communities, fear of gun violence and sometimes of the police who are there to protect them. Law enforcement will continue to work to rebuild trust in minority communities.” Lamont went on to say, “Connecticut knows immigrants and refugees enrich the communities that offer them shelter.”
Because the General Assembly faces a short session this year, Lamont unveiled changes to a $22 billion tax-and-spending plan approved last year for the fiscal year that begins July 1. It calls for a 0.6% spending increase. Unlike last year’s proposal, Lamont’s revised plan includes limited tax changes.
Lamont also made a continued pitch for truck-only tolls to help pay for transportation improvements; called for a ban of flavored vaping products, including menthol; $1.5 million for Planned Parenthood and other family planning centers; and a new regulatory framework for legalized recreational marijuana use by July 1, 2022.