Ned Lamont said he has a plan that will responsibly and equitably fund education in this state.
That plan hinges on not doing what his Republican opponent is proposing, he said, and preserving the income tax.
Lamont, a Greenwich businessman who secured the Democratic nomination for governor in August, offered that criticism of Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski on Monday morning during a brief education-centered press conference outside of East Rock Community Magnet School on Nash Street.
Standing before a half-dozen representatives from the state American Federation of Teachers (AFT) union, Lamont took aim at his Republican opponent, who has thus far run a campaign focused on eliminating the state income tax.
The teachers and union reps behind Lamont held signs reading “SteFanowski,” with the “F” highlighted in red to indicate Lamont’s grade for Stefanowski’s campaign.
Kendall Marr, who heads communications for the Stefanowski campaign, responded with a press release claiming that Lamont’s income tax and highway toll proposals will only drive more people and jobs from Connecticut.
“His plan won’t do us any good if there are no jobs for graduates and no one can afford to live here,” the press release reads.
Instead, the press release claims that Stefanowski will maintain state grants to municipalities, encourage students interested in technical studies to attend vocational and technical schools, and remove existing mandates on how towns and cities can spend their own money.
“We need to restore local control,” the press release reads, “put power back in the hands of municipalities, who are more in tune with the needs of their communities, and ease the burden placed on the them by the state.”
When asked for a response to Lamont’s specific accusations that cutting the income tax would mean cutting education funding, Marr replied, “Lamont is attempting to use scare tactics to distract from his plan to continue to raise taxes, which will continue to devastate our economy and further jeopardize funding for education and other priorities.”
Lamont called Stefanowski’s plan to cut the state income tax, which brings in roughly half of the state’s annual $20 billion budget, “pie in the sky” and a burden on local property taxes.
He noted that Kansas’s governor tried cutting that state’s income tax back in 2012 with promises of trickle-down economic prosperity for all.
“What you saw was an education system that was decimated,” Lamont said. In 2017, the Kansas state legislature overturned Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of efforts to raise state taxes by $1.2 billion in large part to better fund the state’s public education system.
Ed Leavy, the president of the State Vocational Federation of Teachers (SVFT) and the secretary/treasurer of the state AFT, called Stefanowski’s proposal to cut the income tax “irresponsible, immoral, wrong, and planned to fail.”
He said that, based on the current level of state education funding that comes from the income tax, that the cut could result in as many as 8,900 teacher positions lost throughout the state.
Referencing state cuts in the mid-1980s that kept him from starting his high school English job in Bridgeport until three months after the school year had begun, Leavy said, “I learned then and I know better now that every day a student doesn’t have a teacher in front of them is a day that’s lost.”
Besides pinging his reclusive opponent on his proposal to cut the state income tax, Lamont offered few specifics on how he would fund education differently than his predecessor, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
He said that he disagrees with Malloy’s proposal that local cities and towns should cover a portion of teacher pension costs.
And he said that one of his priorities as governor would be to make sure that the state budget comes in on time so that cities and towns and local boards of education do not have to craft education budgets without knowing exactly how much they will be receiving each year from the state.
“I think education funding should go to those towns and cities most in need,” Lamont said in response to a question about what role state funding can play to counteract recent teacher layoffs and education budget deficits in New Haven. “But I’m not going to pull any punches. I’m also a reformer. I know that we can do things more efficiently.” He promised to work with teachers, unions, and local boards of education to make sure that funding remains in the classroom and not with non-teaching administrators.
Lamont promised not to reduce the current level of state funding for education from the current year’s levels during his first year in office, if elected.
“I think that’s a priority we ought to make,” he said. “I think I ought to be able to tell folks that they can count on the amount of education funding that they’ve got right now.”
During the fiscal year that ended in June, the city received around $148 million in state grants for education.
Click on the Facebook Live video below to watch the full press conference.