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Gov. Lamont’s Proposed Budget Includes $200M for Worker Housing

The budget totals $50.5 billion for the two-year cycle and would add 6,400 housing units, allocate $100 million for first-time homeowners and additional millions for local schools. The proposal has been called “a good start.”

(TNS) — The first budget proposal of Gov. Ned Lamont's second term would total $25 billion for the fiscal year that starts July 1 and $25.5 billion in the second, including $200 million in incentives for developers to construct housing for the new workers Connecticut needs to fill 100,000 job vacancies.

"For the first time in a very long time, more and more young families are moving to Connecticut. Last year we built more market rate and affordable housing than any time this century, yet we are still desperately short of housing," Lamont said during a 30-minute noontime address to a joint session of the House and Senate, kicking off the business phase of the budget-setting session that ends at midnight on June 7.

"Having just climbed out of a fiscal crisis, I don't want to fall into a housing crisis," Lamont said. "In addition to increasing investments in affordable housing, our budget proposes an additional $200 million for workforce housing, which will allow the state to provide more housing options for you and more financing options for developers, allowing them to build much more quickly."

He wants to add 6,400 housing units over the biennial budget that runs through June 30, 2025. He called more housing opportunities a key to economic growth.

"Time is money and the housing trust fund will allow developers to move quickly, with an emphasis on multi-unit housing in downtown areas close to transportation," Lamont said. "I'm also urging mayors and first selectmen to develop and act on a plan of their own where they will allow more housing in their community through friendlier zoning and expedited approvals. Towns may submit their plans to facilitate housing on their terms. Doing nothing is not an acceptable strategy."

Lamont's budget also proposes $100 million over the biennium to help first-time homeowners under the state's Time-to-Own program, with forgivable loans to help with down payments.

"The key to building wealth for yourself and your children is ownership," he said. "Owning your home and perhaps even owning your business."

In recent weeks Lamont has announced a few of the initiatives including $20 million in federal funding to cancel $2 billion in state medical debt, and a reduction in the rate of the state income tax and expanding the state's Earned Income Tax Credit, at a total savings of $480 million. "The EITC is one of the best anti-poverty tools we can use because it encourages work, boosts working families and uplifts generations to come," Lamont said. "It's about time we increase it."

More funding and a revamping of the entire child care system is another goal for the next two years. With $135 million in more money for local schools, plus $720 in unallocated federal funding, should help in recruitment and retention of public school teachers that would be supplemented by $10 million to help school districts with staff shortages, he said.

"As we have for four years in a row, I have proposed to you a budget for fiscal '24 and '25 that is in balance, honors the fiscal guard rails established in 2017, and makes the biggest investment in child care, education, workforce and transportation in our state's history," Lamont said as he wrapped up the presentation. He challenged lawmakers to come up with ideas if they want more spending or bigger tax cuts.

"But tell me how you want to pay for it," Lamont concluded.

In reaction, Republican leaders said that reductions to higher education could lose some left-leaning support among Democrats, but they were generally pleased with the start of the process, including some fiscal reforms from the continuation of 2017's budget reforms.

"I think we have more Republicans that are on-board," said House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, of North Branford. "The governor has made some tough decisions here. We'll see if those cuts are maintained. There are reductions there and they didn't get as much as they wanted to see, so it's going to be a bone of contention and as you know, the interest groups will flood the Capitol and present their case why they want more money."

Jeffrey Beckham, who as secretary of the Office of Policy and Management is Lamont's budget chief, told reporters after the address that some higher education funding was federal ARPA money that was supposed to fund one-time emergency expenditures. "We've given them additional ARPA in this budget, for two more years on top of the baseline appropriation that we hope will taper them down, but they should not have built that into their base," Beckham said. "We're attempting to get them to a more-sustainable place."

Candelora said that some state agencies "should be right-sized." He warned that federal funding from the pandemic will soon be used-up, exposing some fiscal realities. He was skeptical that a $20 million state investment could leverage $2 billion in federal relief from medical bills. "It's still very short on details," Candelora said. "Are we just retiring debt that is uncollectible?"

Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly of Stratford said there should be more cuts in taxes. A GOP plan could save families $500 a month in health insurance savings, Kelly said. He said the state could take over $300 million a month in electric utility costs for consumers. "People should only pay for their electricity," he said.

Kelly called the governor's budget "a great start."

"I was pleased with it," said Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney of New Haven. "I think it was by and large a very good proposal, especially his proposal to reduce the income tax for lower-income people, which has been one of our commitments and struggles for more than 30 years."

Speaker of the House Matt Ritter, D- Hartford, said he was generally pleased, but wants more for education, "but that's a conversation we'll have with him. "I think education is going to be a sticking point. I think we're going to need to do more for our higher education, and I think we're going to need to do bigger on ECS (Educational Cost Sharing). At the end of the day, I've been here when the question was how much we're going to cut. Now it's a problem of how much we're going to increase funding. That's a good problem to have."

Nora Duncan, state director of the AARP, said the medical debt initiative is especially important.

"Gov. Lamont's budget proposal places a strong emphasis on protecting patients and reigning in unsustainable health care cost growth," Duncan said in a statement. "His plans to increase transparency for pharmaceutical manufacturers and to join an interstate consortium to purchase prescription drugs at a discounted rate will help lower medication prices for consumers."

But Gian Carl Casa, president & CEO of the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance, said that while Lamont's budget would include capital funding for nonprofit, workers still need better pay to perform jobs that the state has shifted to the private sector.

"But after two years of inflation, COVID, workforce shortages and increasing demand we are disappointed that the governor has not included across-the-board funding increases that our members desperately need," Casa said. "We look forward to working with his office and legislative leaders to ensure the funding is included in the final budget this spring."

(c)2023 the Connecticut Post (Bridgeport, Conn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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