'I don't mind more taxpayers': CT governor cites influx of new residents as proof of economic comeback

STAMFORD — As Connecticut voters prepare to decide in about three weeks whether to re-elect him to a second term, Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont reiterated at a business conference Monday many of his arguments for keeping the job — among them, his assertion that the state has rediscovered its economic vitality during his nearly four years as the state’s chief elected official. 

As he has done in many other recent public appearances, Lamont depicted Connecticut as a state that had long grappled with lackluster economic growth and a lack of confidence, but one that in the past couple of years had weathered the COVID-19 pandemic and was now benefiting from an influx of businesses and residents. 

“We have a lot of new businesses moving into the state of Connecticut,” Lamont said during a “fireside chat” with James Astill, Asia editor for The Economist, during the publication’s inaugural Connecticut Summit, which was attended by about 120 people, at The Village complex in Stamford’s South End. “My job is not to get out of the way, but to make sure they have the talent and resources they need to grow and expand right here in the state.” 

Among the catalysts of Connecticut’s improving economic outlook, Lamont cited the arrival of about 30,000 to 40,000 new residents in the state since the beginning of the pandemic, with many of them relocating from New York City and other large metropolitan areas. 

“I don’t want more taxes, but I don’t mind more taxpayers,” Lamont said, repeating a line he likes to use to describe the state’s population growth. 
The new arrivals have been welcomed by Lamont and many other elected officials, in part because they can help fill the proliferation of open jobs in the state. Financial services, life sciences and manufacturing  — three industries that Lamont highlighted as key to the state’s economy  — are among the fields with numerous openings. 

“We’ve got 125,000 jobs we can’t fill, but I can tell you, as the governor, I love that this is an opportunity to lift everybody up, regardless of their background or ZIP code,” Lamont said. “There’s a job for you.” 

Good infrastructure, including affordable housing and effective mass transit, is essential to recruiting and keeping residents. Federal funds would help to shorten travel times on Metro-North Railroad, according to Lamont.  

“Thanks to the infrastructure bill coming out of Washington, D.C., we’re going to be able to take 20 minutes off the commute from Stamford to New York City,” Lamont said. 

While Lamont, who founded a cable company focused on the college market, expresses in his public appearances an unrelentingly sanguine view of the state’s economic prospects, he is more critical when assessing the state’s economic performance before he took office in January 2019.

“We were the most innovative state in the country — going back to Eli Whitney, we had Igor Sikorsky and then ESPN more recently,” Lamont said. “But we got a little flat, and we had a lot of legacy businesses, and we were resting on our laurels. Going back five-plus years, GE left — remember, ‘last one out, turn out the lights.’ There was a little bit of a crisis of confidence.”

 He added that, “we took a very different perspective here as we tried to not just focus on industries of the future, but have a brand-new relationship with the business community. We had virtually no relationship with the business community, and we put together something called Advance CT (an economic development-focused nonprofit).”

Similarly, Lamont again signaled his disapproval of large corporate subsidies that were a hallmark of previous administrations, including his immediate predecessor, Democrat Dannel P. Malloy, who served from 2011 to 2019. 

“All my predecessors said, ‘Please come to Connecticut, pretty please. And I’ll give you $400 million,’” Lamont said, describing with some hyperbole the corporate aid approved by previous governors. “I thought that was a fool’s errand.” 

In contrast with Malloy, Lamont has deployed corporate aid on a much smaller scale, with no company generally qualifying for more than a few million dollars. Among the new wave of arrivals, Lamont cited the cryptocurrency and blockchain-focused Digital Currency Group, which has relocated its headquarters from Manhattan to Stamford.

Looking ahead to a prospective second term, Lamont acknowledged the possibility of a recession hitting during the next few years. He said he wants to maintain robust reserves so that the state does not have to raise taxes or cut education spending if there is a significant downturn. 

“What I lose sleep about is making sure I’m prepared for what could be ahead. But I wouldn’t trade our place with anybody,” Lamont said. “We’ve got $3.5 billion, which is about 15 percent of our revenues set aside… We’re taking some of the uncertainty out of this. As a former business person, I think certainty is really helpful.”  

In response to an inquiry from Hearst Connecticut Media, Rob Hotaling, the Independent Party gubernatorial nominee, outlined his economic agenda.

"My 'Jobs and Economic Growth' plan would invest in modern SMB manufacturing and technology businesses to create 100K new jobs and new tax revenue over 10 years with economic growth," Hotaling said in a statement. "Each new manufacturing and technology job typically creates an additional five jobs and for every dollar spent, another $2.74 is added to the economy. These investments will be made in the form of grants, tax credits and rebates, workforce training, and other incentives."

Hotaling added that, "I would expand state investment opportunities including Connecticut Innovations Equity Portfolio. I am the only candidate with actual innovation and manufacturing experience and the ability to recruit and retain innovative businesses." 

A message left Monday for a spokesperson for Bob Stefanowski, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, was not immediately returned. 

pschott@stamfordadvocate.com; twitter: @paulschott