Lamont emerges as best choice for governor

Ned Lamont stepped forward when other more prominent Democrats were unwilling. It did not appear to be a good year for the party’s prospects for governor.

Incumbent Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who entered office eight years ago inheriting a massive budget deficit and a grossly underfunded pension plan, has managed to alienate most everyone by pushing through tax increases and demanding repeated concessions from labor. And still Connecticut struggled fiscally and economically.

Things seemed primed for political change at the top. But Lamont proceeded in earnest, persuading his main challenger for the nomination, former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, to join him on the ticket as his lieutenant governor choice. He earned the convention nomination and won a primary with a landslide victory.

Now he has emerged as the strongest candidate in the general election.

In contrast his Republican opponent, Bob Stefanowski, skipped the party convention, petitioning his way onto the primary ballot. An early intense advertising campaign focused on a pledge to eliminate the state income tax, an unserious proposal given that Stefanowski refuses to say how he would make up for the state’s largest source of revenue, generated significant voter support.

While it cannot be considered a legitimate policy strategy, the pledge carried Stefanowski to victory in a five-way primary, but with less than 30 percent of the vote. He has not broadened his pitch one iota since, still promising to eliminate the income tax, but with no explanation how, while seeking to tie Lamont to the Malloy legacy.

Petitioning candidate Oz Griebel, the former director of the MetroHartford Alliance, has run a serious campaign. His focus on the critical need to repair and upgrade the state’s woeful transportation network, and the necessity of installing electronic tolls to pay for it, is on target.

But Griebel’s plans to confront the $2 billion projected deficit Connecticut faces in the coming fiscal year are alarming. He has said he would seek to drain the Rainy Day Fund, the only recently rebuilt $1.1 billion emergency budget reserve, and again forestall payments into the pension system.

These are the short-term approaches that got Connecticut into this fiscal mess. In the long term they exacerbate the state’s problems.

“It’s not a rainy day,” said Lamont, on point, when he met with the editorial board. Indeed, the fund is meant to address an unforeseen crisis, such as an economic downturn, not to fix a self-imposed budgetary gap.

Griebel also met with the board. The Stefanowski campaign did not respond to our requests for a meeting.

Lamont’s call for some modest property tax relief pale when measured against the grandiosity of eliminating the income tax, but there is an honest earnestness to Lamont’s acknowledgement that modest is all Connecticut can afford, if that.

In the first year he would expand the $200 state income tax credit offered to middle-class households to $300 the first year, and to about $700, on average, for some of the poorest households, with plans to expand the credit thereafter.

His plans to equalize the property tax on motor vehicles — the tax assessed on the same value auto can be three or four times greater from one town to the next — are not fully baked, but his focus on the situation is welcomed.

As for fixing the state’s finances, Lamont said he will negotiate with the labor unions to find substantial health plan savings. He wants to keep more elderly citizens in their homes, lowering Medicaid costs when compared to institutional care.

Lamont suggests refinancing the teacher pension obligation to make it manageable and dedicate lottery receipts to fund it. He is counting on legalized sports betting and marijuana sales to produce revenues.

Lamont advocates a toll on trucks to raise transportation revenues. A general toll will be necessary to meet the need.

Granted, none of this will produce the immediate savings or revenues necessary to address the projected deficit Connecticut faces, but Lamont’s lack of specificity on that count is measured against the fantasy call to eliminate the income tax and a promise to raid reserves and forgo pension investments.

We’ll take our chances that earnest Ned will attack the problem. The Day endorses Ned Lamont for governor.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Pat Richardson, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, retired Day editor Lisa McGinley, Managing Editor Tim Cotter and Staff Writer Julia Bergman. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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