Last year’s State of the State address seems like a long, long time ago.
Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Senator Kelly, Representative Candelora, my fellow state officials, members of the General Assembly and the Judicial Branch, Lt. Governor Bysiewicz, honored guests, and the people of the great state of Connecticut.
Two years ago, as your new governor, you welcomed me into the “room where it happens.” This year, that room has become a “virtual room.”
I want to express my most sincere gratitude to the nurses, doctors, caregivers, National Guard, teachers, and the many other essential workers who are on the front lines of our fight against COVID. You have all stepped up in ways we and you never would have imagined necessary or possible. On behalf of a very grateful state: thank you, thank you, thank you.
Before we begin, I would like to take a moment of silence for members of our Connecticut family, who we have lost this past year.
Two years ago, I introduced my family to you — adding that Annie and I consider Connecticut like an extension of our own family. After ten months of COVID, that is truer today than it was ever before.
Every day, we are reminded that we are all in this together, and like any large family, we must look out and care for one another.
Goodbye 2020 and good riddance, a year that has been the most challenging and humbling of my life. One year ago today, we had never heard of COVID, and pandemics seemed a thing of the past. One year later, we have lost over 6,000 members of our Connecticut family to this deadly virus. Schools and universities are trying their hardest to stay open, businesses are fighting for their survival, and working families are struggling to stay afloat.
But, thanks to all of you, and our amazing scientific community which has developed a safe and effective vaccine in less than one year, there is a hopeful light on the horizon, our state and our nation are on the mend, and Connecticut’s comeback is happening.
Two years ago, I promised an open door and a bigger table that included Democrats and Republicans, labor and business. After ten months of COVID, that bigger table also includes our reopening committee — which featured the best healthcare minds not just in Connecticut, but in the country — to guide us through this crisis led by science and honesty. Some of those very members are now advising the president-elect.
Public Health Commissioner Deidre Gifford and Trinity Healthcare President Reggie Eadie formed the Vaccine Advisory Group with scientific and community leaders giving us confidence that it is safe and effective to take the vaccine.
In keeping with the Hamilton theme from two years ago, when I spoke about a young Alexander Hamilton arriving in America — the land of opportunity, and not wanting to waste his shot — in today’s day and age, we are all thinking about the vaccine, which only makes a difference if nobody wastes their shot.
Similarly, two years ago I stressed the importance of resetting the relationships with our neighboring and regional states. For too long, those relationships had been neglected. And as our neighboring governors understood, this virus doesn’t respect state borders. When the federal government failed to come up with a national strategy, I worked with Gina and Charlie in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, Phil in New Jersey, and of course Andrew in neighboring New York.
COVID is not the only challenge that doesn’t respect borders. I am going to continue to build upon those relationships to implement more effective and less expensive solutions, such as faster transportation options which incentivize a move to all electric vehicles, a zero-carbon electric grid, and stronger protections against cyberattacks.
I am working with our neighboring states and look forward to working with our tribal partners on a path forward to modernize gaming in our state, as well as the legislature on legalization of marijuana. Sports betting, internet gaming, and legalized marijuana are happening all around us. Let’s not surrender these opportunities to out-of-state markets or even worse, underground markets.
Racism is another virus which knows no borders. Following the tragic deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, our nation and our state found itself at a historical moment of reckoning — forced to finally confront the hard truths of racial inequality and injustice — but protests are only meaningful if they are a call to action.
Unlike the violence which jarred protests in other states, our protests highlighted the best in Connecticut values — with black and white, suburbs and cities, police and protesters locking arms in a common cause.
Two years ago, we emphasized broader access to affordable healthcare as a basic human right. After COVID, we have a renewed understanding that affordable, quality healthcare is not only essential to us as individuals, but critically important for the well-being of our communities. If you cannot get tested, if you cannot quarantine safely, if you don’t have ready access to the vaccine, that’s not only dangerous for you, that’s dangerous for all of us.
Two years ago, when we passed paid family and medical leave, we understood how important it was that if illness struck, you didn’t have to choose between the family you love and the job you need. When COVID struck, even the federal government rushed to implement their own version of paid medical leave for their two-million employees. No more workers feeling they had to show up to work feeling sick or infectious fearing for their livelihoods.
Two years ago, a $15 minimum wage meant that a minimum wage worker could earn enough to provide for his or her family. After COVID, we better understand that the minimum wage worker is an essential worker — one of the many heroes who never stopped providing for our children at daycare, ensuring there’s enough food on the shelves of our grocery stores or taking care of our elderly. These heroes cannot simply telecommute, their work is too essential.
Last spring, some of these essential workers began working with Commissioner Beth Bye to identify the childcare centers located next to our hospitals. Within weeks, 26 childcare centers were open and providing free childcare to those frontline workers taking care of us.
To those small businesses struggling to keep their doors open whose employees are some of the many working families trying to make ends meet during this COVID recession, we are continuing to provide grants to keep you afloat until federal aid arrives, especially for the hospitality and restaurant sectors, which have been hit hardest.
Similarly, through our Shared Work Program, we have streamlined our unemployment benefit program so employers can save jobs and retain their workers until the economy is fully back.
Two years ago, I vowed to work tirelessly to ensure that all our kids have the greatest opportunities to thrive, succeed, and create a life of their own — right here in Connecticut.
With many students having to learn from home, COVID revealed that too many students are left on the wrong side of the digital divide that exacerbates the achievement gap. Computers, internet access, and broadband – these are the tools essential to students’ success during COVID and for the foreseeable future.
When the pandemic struck, we worked together — public, private, and nonprofits — to solve this digital divide.[Video clip of President-Elect Joe Biden: Dr. Cardona has brought his heart, his knowledge, and his passion for education to bear on behalf of the students across Connecticut. And when that pandemic struck, he was ready. He helped secure more than 140,000 laptops, more than 40,000 internet connections for students who lack them. Because of him, Connecticut became the first state in the nation to ensure that every single public school student was equipped to engage in remote learning regardless of family income.]
Of course, the president-elect is referring to our very own Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona, who will be the nation’s next secretary of Education.
We will also be the first state to broaden the teaching of history and social studies to make sure that our Black and Hispanic children along with their white peers have a better appreciation of their histories and civilizations, including Native American history, which are so much about who they are and who we are.
This year, we will continue to emphasize our best-in-the-nation public schools and workforce development, making sure every child, regardless of zip code, race, color, or creed, has the best opportunity at the starting line of life.
After ten months of COVID, the entire state should rise to its feet and applaud the dedication of our teachers. With schools closed around the country, we kept more of ours safely open, because we prioritize our children and their futures, because they are our future.
Voting is all about our children, and that’s why elections do matter. Secretary of the State Denise Merrill gets a shout out for making it easier for us to vote safely – and with integrity – during this pandemic. Voters appreciated the absentee ballots and early voting. We should make this permanent.
Two years ago, we emphasized how important an on-time, honestly balanced budget is to families, mayors, first select persons, and small businesses so that they can accurately plan for their future. Thanks to your support, we passed an honestly balanced budget. It included a down payment on paying off our longstanding pension liabilities and created the largest rainy-day fund in our state’s history.
In these turbulent economic times, we are well positioned to fund our critical services without draconian cuts or broad tax increases.
Two years ago, the Wall Street Journal asked, “What’s Wrong with Connecticut?” Now, commentators across the country are applauding our budgetary approach. As a recognition of this hard work, outside analysts have repeatedly reported that Connecticut is getting its fiscal house in order, and Treasurer Shawn Wooden appreciates that we can now borrow at the lowest interest rates in our history, helping us to rebuild our economy at less cost to our taxpayers.
COVID brings us back to healthcare, the fastest growing piece of our state budget and your family budget. This year, we implemented cost and quality benchmarks for healthcare procedures and services, similar to the benchmarks that have saved Massachusetts families and taxpayers billions of dollars.
Comptroller Kevin Lembo continues to prioritize centers of healthcare excellence where your family can count on higher quality healthcare at less cost. This is true for our small businesses and state employees alike.
Attorney General William Tong is pushing to hold down generic drug prices. This year, Connecticut expanded healthcare access at less cost for the first time in years.
Two years ago, I said I do not want our state defined by a chronic fiscal crisis, which had been our norm and was sapping our confidence. Today, I don’t want our state to be defined by a COVID crisis – instead, I want this to be the year we changed the narrative of Connecticut. Let this be the year of the Connecticut comeback!
There are many reasons young families and new businesses are giving us a second look and choosing Connecticut. Perhaps it’s the quality of our education, or a more stable fiscal outlook. Maybe it’s our mayors, who creatively brought our cities and town centers to life, including some of the best and safest outdoor dining experiences in the country.
COVID may not be our last pandemic, and our new neighbors arriving in moving vans prefer quarantining in a small backyard rather than in a small apartment or telecommuting rather than taking a crowded subway.
Whatever the reason, as people seek to improve the quality of their lives, they are choosing Connecticut. Tens of thousands of young families have moved to the state for the first time in a generation because they recognize and appreciate our Connecticut values.
Connecticut was ranked one of the best states in the country to raise a family, for women, for working mothers, and for public safety.
Within those rankings, Connecticut ranks even higher for education, childcare, and women’s health. COVID has pushed too many women out of the workforce, but not for long.
Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz leads a Council on Women and Girls to make sure we stay the most family-friendly state in the country and a leader for pay equity.
In this coming year, we will be expanding our commitment to affordable housing, access to broadband, transit-oriented development, open choice school incentives, as well as an expansion of our workforce development and small business growth fund. That’s how we get Connecticut growing again, and working for all of our families, with liberty and justice for all.
The Connecticut I know is a state which hasn’t and won’t let itself be defined by this crisis. Instead, it’s a state which responded to its generational calling with thousands of volunteers providing food, support, and encouragement to hundreds of cars filled with hungry families at the Rentschler Field Food Distribution Center, nurses coming out of retirement to help at COVID clinics, college students stepping up to serve as apprentice teachers, business leaders leveraging their contacts to provide the state with masks and gowns, and countless other examples of Connecticut meeting its generational challenge.
These are Connecticut values.
The next year will continue to be a challenging time for our state and nation, but I have never been more optimistic about our future.
Through our shared values and commitment to one another, we will rise above this crisis and build a better tomorrow. Today is the first day of Connecticut’s comeback story.
God bless you all. And may God continue to bless the great State of Connecticut.