Bold ideas from Lamont’s teams
Any new governor’s administration brings promise and potential, at least for the party in power. Gov.-eklect Ned Lamont wants big and bold ideas.
Here are 15 of the biggest and boldest, one each from the 15 transition working groups that the victorious Democrat convened just a few weeks ago.
When I asked for his favorite ideas, the governor-to-be demurred and said he’ll weigh in soon enough, ahead of his Jan. 9 inauguration. He spoke glowingly of the work by his transition groups — which offered lots of ideas, big and small, doable and in some cases a long stretch.
“I was surprisingly pleased,” he said in an interview Thursday. “We had people with direct, relevant experience on these committees volunteering their time ... folks from the not-for-profits, folks from business, folks from labor ... thinking about new ways to solve these problems.”
The written reports are still not public documents because they’re considered drafts, a specious designation at best, and the transition teams aren’t government agencies. But the ideas are out of the bag, open for debate.
A word of caution before you get too upset: Lamont doesn’t necessarily endorse these. He already rejected a hearty call for highway tolls for cars and trucks, along with huigher gasoline taxes, both offered by his transportation working group. Lamont says he wants to charge only interstate trucks passing through.
He added, “My job now is not just to cull through and pick the best ideas, but also to figure out how to keep these folks engaged.”
I’ve graded each idea based on its boldness,
viability and impact.
A northeast summit
This group advised Lamont to convene a summit on economic growth with the governors of the states that touch Connecticut. That would give Lamont an instant platform for leadership among some large personalities, all of whom — Republican Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Democrats Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island and Andrew Cuomo of New York — have national reputations. I’d add New Jersey, which is already working with its northeastern neighbors on opposing President Donald Trump’s anti-blue-state tax reform and other issues. To be clear, these states are rivals as well as friends. This idea could have more impact than the panel’s other bold plan, to add a state “secretary of commerce” to oversee business recruitment. Grade: B
e-consults for Medicaid
This panel aims to make Connecticut the healthiest state — we’re not far off now — and advance automated information and payments based on value and outcomes, not volume of service. Those are all big buzzwords in the sector. Among specifics, electronic doctor consultations, along with “Medicaid payment for e-consults that covers costs to improve access,” is a plan with some teeth. We’ll be hearing more about this from places such as Community Health Center Inc. Grade: A-
Women: Hiring quotas
for top Lamont appointees
This is the only group to convene based on identity. The panel endorsed policies to help low-wage workers (often women) and victims of felony sex crimes (eliminating time limits for arrests) and sexual harassment, and to reach gender-pay equity. All great stuff. And there was this, in the document: “Commissioner and Executive Branch appointments should be comprised of 50 percent women, with particular attention to women of color, to reflect the state’s population.” That’s laudable as a goal, terrible as a quota. It’s demeaning and it’s the wrong way to achieve equality. Grade: D
Transportation: Full-scale tolls
This panel, dominated by planners and public transit officials, favors investment in all sorts of innovative ways to move people around, including more bicycle-friendly streets, which we need desperately. But you can’t ignore the elephant in the room and that’s the panel’s endorsement of broad tolls, along with possibly higher gasoline taxes, although they also said high enough tolls could lead to lower levies at the pump. Lamont said no to both, but he’ll face pressure on both. Grade: B
Energy: State sets an example
Overall this panel’s advice is a testament to clean and green energy. On that score, in a “lead by example” category, the group called for Lamont to commit to “reducing energy consumption in state buildings by 40 percent from current levels by 2030” and “converting state vehicles to zero emissions for 50 percent of its light-duty fleet and 30 percent of its buses from current levels by 2030.” We’ll see whether technology makes that doable. Grade: A-
Human services: Fix non-emergency transportation
Human services is about as broad a category as the state has, and this group suggested a vast number of basic improvements embracing inter-agency cooperation and technology. You may have read about their push to restore voting rights to people on parole. Plaudits for shining light on an issue most people don’t think about, the costly and problem-plagued system of non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT). Among the bold ideas: “Create a private right of action for those aggrieved by poor NEMT service.” Grade: B+
Arts, culture and tourism: Cultural facilities fund
This group could have used more artists for creative thinking. Basic stuff here, mainly reorganize and spend more money, which might help the state in a sector that generates high returns. A “cultural facilities fund” would bring attention to arts and culture venues, for sure. Whose money? Grade: C-
Public safety: Tighter
firearms safety rules
This group looked in a disciplined way at opioid addiction, motor vehicle safety, police resources and firearms safety. Collectively, the list of firearms rules makes sense. Among them: “Prohibition on leaving firearms in the passenger compartment of motor vehicles:” prohibition against 3D-made guns, which are not a problem yet, but could become one; and tighter storage rules around juveniles. In light of the recent death of 15-year-old Ethan Song in Guilford, I’d suggest adding enforcement power, too. Grade: B+
Environment: Carbon pricing for the region
No shortage of ways to make an impact from this group, including phasing out single-use plastic bags and expanding public composting of food waste. Most intriguing, and potentially controversial: “Lead the way in designing carbon pricing that fits Connecticut and the region.” We’re talking about taxes or fees on carbon use, folks, and you know what that means. But panel leaders assure us it would be regional, and there are many ways to do it, as we’ve already seen with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Grade: B+
Agriculture: Boost greenhouse products, including hemp
Give this panel credit for bucking the seemingly inevitable trend by opposing a minimum wage increase, at least for farm workers. That’s not innovation; for creativity, we turn to hemp — a form of cannabis used for clothing and other accessories — as a cash crop, part of a puch for more greenhouses. That would require some federal approvals and it makes sense in a blocking-and-tackling sort of way. Grade: B-
Digital strategy: Mandatory computer education
You’d expect the digital group to act aggressively and they didn’t disappoint. Hire a state tech czar (I favor a tsar instead), help finance tech employment in all sports of ways, create task forces, it’s all here. But they recognized state’s shortage of tech graduates stems (get it?) from early education, thus this: “Begin work on a mandatory computer science program for our middle and high schools.” That’s smart only if it’s heavy on theory and light on trade education for kids. Grade: B-
Shared services: Splitting
town tax bills
Prodding towns to work together on services is like expecting your 15-year-old to pal around with your bestie’s teenager. But it’s a crisis in this state and this group is tired of foot-dragging by towns. Lots of requirements in here, which towns won’t like, including this: “Municipal bodies and boards of education would each set their own mill rates and levy their own property taxes,” the better to see who’s spending what. Most states already do it. Who knew? Grade: B-
Housing: End all
homelessness by 2023
Points off for using the word “leverage” 12 times in a 2-page synopsis, as in, “a new paradigm that attracts private capital to leverage holistic public investment in Connecticut’s communities.” Serious jargon, but the housing ideas matter, including a statewide housing database. Ending homelessness might be impossible simply because it’s a constant process, not a static goal. Bold and important, building on a great legacy by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. Grade: B
Education: No more
tiny school systems
Less jargon from this group than we saw in housing, who’d have thunk it? And the education panel covered many of the same shared services and digital and science curriculum ideas as other groups, including mandatory computer education. For boldness, you can’t beat this: “Require small school districts to internally consolidate or regionally share services.” Require, based on funding formulas rather than outright fiat, we assume. Grade: A
Erase some crime records
after crime-free time
Here’s another strong Malloy legacy category and the panel wants to continue the outgoing guv’s programs — no surprise since Firts Lady Cathy Malloy is a co-chair. I’m no expert but it seems to be working based on the data. Boldest idea: “Clean-Slate legislation providing for the automatic erasure of misdemeanor and some felony convictions after a person has been crime-free for a period of time.” Times should be long and crimes nonviolent. Also, no clean slate for financial fraud. Grade: B