January 7, 2019
Editor's Take

Progressives pose early challenge for Lamont

Greg Bordonaro Editor

As Gov.-elect Ned Lamont prepares to take office Jan. 9, it would appear he has the political winds at his back.

Yes, the Democrat has to deal with a structural budget deficit with no easy fixes, but his party controls both chambers of the legislature, which means he could face little resistance implementing his agenda.

But I'd argue Democrats' stranglehold over state government will actually turn out to be one of Lamont's biggest challenges early on, especially with the growing influence of the progressive caucus, whose support for a minimum-wage increase, paid family medical leave, and tax increases on the wealthy all pose threats to Connecticut's already tenuous business climate and economy.

Lamont's success, like his predecessor's, will largely be measured by his ability to balance the state's budget on a long-term basis, while also promoting an environment fertile for economic growth. He will need support from the business community to make that happen.

Democrats, of course, made big gains during the recent election, riding an anti-Trump wave to a renewed majority in the Senate and more power in the House.

Democrats added 12 seats in the House giving them a 92-59 majority over Republicans. In the Senate, they gained five seats, which turns last year's 18-18 tie into a 23-13 advantage.

The bigger headline in my mind is the growth of the fledgling progressive caucus, which will have 45 members in House, meaning they will occupy half of Democrats' seats in that chamber, according to a recent report by the Connecticut Post.

That could translate into a very strong voting bloc that poses challenges for Lamont, who has talked about implementing a pro-business agenda, while also sticking to his progressive instincts. That will require a delicate dance.

In reality, Lamont supports many of the items on progressives' policy wishlist, and in some ways he may be a more liberal governor than Dannel P. Malloy, who, in his second term, began to realize that legislation that increases the cost of doing business in Connecticut — or raises taxes on the wealthy — is not in the state's best long-term interests.

Lamont, for example, repeatedly said on the campaign trail that he'd support gradually raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and implementing paid family medical leave.

We'll see if he changes his tone once he gets pushback from the business community.

To be clear, these are noble policy endeavors. Most employers would like to give their workers higher pay and added benefits, but a one-size-fits-all, government-mandated model will hurt Connecticut, which is already ranked as one of the worst places to do business in the U.S. by several publications.

It is true that some large employers in this state have already moved toward a $15 minimum wage and adopted paid family medical leave. But that shouldn't give us a false sense that such perks should become mainstream. In fact, large employers, which are competing for global talent, are in the best position to afford such benefits. It's the small and mid-size companies that will be hurt most.

I'm not saying Connecticut should never adopt these policies. Someday, there will be a time and place, but the state's economy is still underperforming the rest of the nation.

Continuing to raise taxes on the wealthy, something Malloy did twice, has also proven to be an ineffective cure to the state's fiscal problems.

The state Democratic party should not equate its November victories with an open-ended mandate to implement an ultra-progressive agenda. If it weren't for Trump and another weak GOP gubernatorial candidate, the makeup of our legislature would likely look very different right now.

What residents want most is a vibrant economy that provides job- and wage-growth opportunities.

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