Lamont: tolls, marijuana, paid leave and $15 will pass
HARTFORD — Despite a lack of momentum from majority Democrats in the General Assembly, Gov. Ned Lamont on Tuesday predicted that his singular initiatives - highway tolls, recreational marijuana, paid family leave and a $15 minimum wage - will pass this year in the General Assembly.
But with focused opposition from Republicans, only eight weeks until the legislature’s statutory adjournment, and a lack of solid legislative details for each of the proposals, Lamont’s ability to push the bills across the finish line is being challenged.
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“I can’t be any more open,” Lamont said in response to a question on tolls during a news conference with reporters. “We passed a lock box. Anything we do with tolling is subject to federal authorization. That money has got to go to transportation by federal law.”
He said that while the marijuana bill is currently in the hands of the legislature, he has been in contact with Rhode Island Gov. Gina Marie Raimondo, whose legislature is debating similar issues. “I’m saying let’s do something like this on a regional basis,” Lamont said. “Let’s regulate it on a thoughtful basis. Let’s make sure that we’re not going to advertise it. The bill is going to come out of the legislature. I want to make sure it’s something that parents will have confidence that this is the right thing to do.”
Retail cannabis outlets in Massachusetts have been attracting customers from Connecticut for months.
The exact legal language for tolls, cannabis, paid leave and the minimum wage have not yet emerged in the majority caucuses in the House and Senate. There are few details on tolls, including how much they would cost motorists and where they would be located.
J.R. Romano, chairman of the state Republican Party, said Tuesday that many Democrats are beginning to understand the potential backlash over controversial legislation.
“The devil’s in the details,” he said of the quartet of legislative packages. Romano was particularly critical of the recreational cannabis bill, for which there is no easy test for police to check for roadside intoxication. He said the paid leave and $15 minimum wage could actually hurt the middle class with higher consumer prices.
“These newly elected Democrats believe they received some kind of mandate,” Romano said. “They are grossly underestimating the ability of the voting public to split their tickets” in the 2020 election.
“Ned has a tendency to say things that he doesn’t understand,” Romano said.
The retail-cannabis legislation needs a variety of major details that could sink it this year, not the least of which is that the social problems of full legalization could outweigh the estimated $180 million a year in tax revenue, estimated at 20 percent of total sales.
“I think the idea of leaving that to the black market would be irresponsible and dangerous,” Lamont said. “I think to do it on a carefully regulated basis is the safest way to do it going forward, and our neighbors are doing it and we’re going to do it as well.”
Critics centered in the business community say that the paid family leave bill would take too much money from weekly paychecks; and that a four-year phase-in of the $15 minimum wage, up from the current $10.10, is too much, too soon. Pathways to success could possibly make the family leave program optional and a five-year phase-in for $15, rather than four years.
“We’re going to pass paid family leave,” said Lamont. “I’m going to work my heart out to make sure that that gets done. And I’m going to do it in the most fiscally responsible way so the taxpayers know this is going to be managed in an efficient way going forward. You’ve got to give families a little bit of flexibility when it comes to taking care of a sick one.”
On the minimum wage, Lamont said he’s been in communication with business leaders. “We’re going to phase this in over a responsible period of time. Give people a chance to plan accordingly. We’re going to get this done.”
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