Connecticut legislators react to Gov. Ned Lamont’s 2024 State of the State address

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Gov. Ned Lamont (D-Conn.) delivered his annual State of the State address on Wednesday as lawmakers marked the start of the 2024 legislative session.

Top legislators reacted to the governor’s address, praising his leadership while offering a preview of the debates that will play out between the administration and lawmakers in this year’s legislative session.

All four of the state’s top legislative leaders said something positive about the governor’s address.

“We try to bring people together on opening day, and I think that’s a good start,” State House Speaker Matt Ritter (D) said.

“Overall, I give it a good mark,” Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly said.

Kelly and his counterpart in the House of Representatives, State Rep. Vincent Candelora, both seemed generally supportive of the governor’s approach to budgeting.

“We’ve had surpluses for the past four or five years,” Kelly said. “We’ve been in the black. We have a historic rainy day fund for emergencies. And we’ve paid down debt.”

Republican leaders support Lamont’s approach largely because the governor’s proposed budget stays within statutory spending limits, commonly called fiscal guardrails. The guardrails essentially cap state spending at certain levels and have been credited with significantly improving the state’s finances.

Republicans, who find themselves outnumbered in the legislature, see Lamont as a defender of the spending limit who can act as sort of a political guardrail against some in his party who want to amend or eliminate the fiscal guardrails.

“The governor supports the integrity of those caps,” Candelora said in an interview following the governor’s State of the State address. “I think there are many Democrats that want to undo it.”

The Democrats that Candelora was likely referring to are perhaps best represented by the powerful state Senate President, Martin Looney.

“I think there are certain areas that we need to focus on and make an even deeper commitment than what he talked about in the speech,” Looney said of the governor’s address.

Looney, a New Haven Democrat, believes the state must do more to provide for the middle and working classes. He has floated possible changes to the current “guardrails” regime to fund increased state investment in childcare, mental health services, higher education, and other social welfare programs.

As for what a “deeper commitment” means in real dollars, Ritter gave a straightforward estimate.

“Look, we’re $300 to $400 million apart from the governor on spending,” he said, referring to his own caucus in the House. “That’s where we are. It’s not insurmountable.”

The figure offered by Ritter illustrates the challenge legislators now face as they ponder the search for a compromise.

Sean Scanlon, a former state legislator who now serves as State Comptroller, offered a preview of how he sees the differences between Lamont, Looney and Ritter playing out.

“There’s not going to be a great showdown,” Scanlon said. “There’s gonna be what always happens here. People roll up their sleeves, they get a compromise, and they get something done.”

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