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Lamont eyes new ways to streamline state government

February 26, 2019 GMT

New London — Every fifth desk in Hartford is already empty, Gov. Ned Lamont joked with The Day’s Editorial Board on Tuesday.

“Some guy at (the Office of Policy and Management) said, ‘Cut another 3 percent, cut another 3 percent,’ and they did it through attrition and it was a thoughtless process. I’m not doing that,” said Lamont, responding to questions on the size of state government a week after he released his two-year 2 billion teacher pension obligation bond, so annual state contributions don’t “go through the roof.” It also calls for greater contributions from towns and cities for teacher pensions, as well, particularly from wealthier communities.

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He also made the case for expanding the sales tax base, noting sales tax only applies “to the slowest moving part of the economy, the Sears Roebuck economy, the lawnmowers that are sold over the counters. It doesn’t apply to lawnmowing services, the fastest-growing pieces of our economy, the services and digital economies.”

Lamont acknowledged that taxing “lawnmower services, yoga, and barber shops” was a bureaucratic process and “it’s a lot easier to ratchet up the sales tax a bit. The door is open. I think my way is more in keeping with the 21st century economy. Am I willing to compromise on that? Yeah. I’ve got to get a budget done.”

Asked about his push for regionalization of school services, Lamont noted he’s not looking to penalize school districts and “not asking any town to give up school districts. I respect their feisty independence.”

But he said he would use his bonding authority to incentivize shared services. He said he’s more likely to authorize state bonding for two towns with relatively small schools looking to combine a school and share a superintendent, versus towns looking to construct their own facilities without sharing services.

Asked if he encourages small districts to regionalize and potentially streamline back-office positions, Lamont said he couldn’t “figure out why I have to encourage them to do that.”

“You would think they’d look at the numbers and say, ‘I’ve got a superintendent for 1,000 students, the superintendent could also do 10,000 students’ and maybe they can share some things,” he said. “I’d be a hero of a first selectman because I reduced taxes by one mil, but that doesn’t seem to be happening.”

b.kail@theday.com