Bob Stefanowski and Ned Lamont compete to show empathy on inflation
With Gov. Ned Lamont airing a new television commercial outlining what he’s done to cut costs for consumers, Republican Bob Stefanowski countered Wednesday with a call to use the state budget surplus to do even more.
Both candidates, men of sufficient wealth to fund their own campaigns, are fighting to reinforce that they understand the impact of the worst inflation in 40 years on the pocketbooks and psyches of voters.
“We need to understand what people are going through. We need to empathize with what they’re going through,” Stefanowski said. “And most importantly, we need to do something about it.”
Stefanowski said the governor and legislature should use about one-third of the $3.8 billion surplus for immediate tax relief, including cutting the sales tax from 6.35% to 5.99% and making further cuts to fuel taxes. Republican lawmakers made a similar pitch Tuesday
“I don’t think it’s unreasonable, in the worst inflation in 40 years, to ask Gov. Lamont to give a third of it back and help that mom who’s driving her kids to school every morning, paying $5 a gallon for gas. I don’t think it’s a lot to ask,” Stefanowski said.
The Lamont campaign noted that moms driving their kids to school are getting several measures of tax relief: a suspension in the excise tax on gas, cuts in property and car taxes, child tax credits and earned income tax credits.
The state is paying $250 for every child, up to $750, in single-parent households earning up to $100,000 and couples up to $200,000. The working poor also will get an earned income tax credit of $300.
Both campaigns show signs of trying brace to themselves against the winds of national political issues.
Inflation spiking with a Democrat in the White House is challenge for Lamont, while the congressional Republican intransigence on gun safety and the hostility toward abortion rights could be problematic for Stefanowski.
“To the extent Lamont has to disentangle himself from what many people appear to think is the Democrats’ fault for fill-in-the-blank — inflation, whatever else is happening — no matter what Bob does, he may have that same problem, given his own history,” said Roy Occhiogrosso, a Democratic consultant not working on Lamont’s campaign.
Stefanowski, who sought and won the NRA endorsement in his first run four years ago, said Wednesday he supports the Sandy Hook gun law that the NRA opposed and would like to see Congress adopt a similar law on universal background checks.
“I’m going to advocate for more control at a federal level,” Stefanowski said. “There are other states that should be doing some things that Connecticut has done — universal background checks, things of that nature.”
Stefanowski, who never released the NRA questionnaire he completed four years ago to win the endorsement, said he will not be completing any endorsement questionnaires this year.
He said Democratic videos portraying him as hostile to the Sandy Hook gun safety law are inaccurate. Using a passive voice, he said, “When you see what happened in the last four years to kids in our school, positions have evolved over time.”
“Our governor has certainly changed his position on a variety of issues,” Stefanowski said. “I would encourage him to change his position on parental notification on abortion.”
Stefanowski favors parental notification. Lamont does not, preferring Connecticut’s current requirement for counseling of minors seeking abortion, which includes a suggestion of parental involvement.
In his first press event since testing positive 10 days ago for COVID-19, Stefanowski addressed reporters at Tuxis-Ohr’s, a supplier of home heating oil, gasoline and diesel fuel.
By statute, the state’s diesel tax is scheduled to be recalculated by July 1, with an increase of at least 10 cents a gallon expected. Stefanowski said the state should suspend the existing diesel tax of about 40 cents per gallon and then cap it at that level when it is collected again.
Tuxis delivers about 15 million gallons of diesel annually, all of it to Connecticut customers. The company serves one truck stop, which has an interstate clientele, but the rest of the customers are various businesses whose operations are intrastate, said Katie Childs, the company vice president.
The increase in the diesel tax will be passed on to consumers, as will a highway use tax that is scheduled to take effect in January. They come as other costs are skyrocketing, she said.
“We have never been in an environment like this,” Childs said.
One irony of the event’s locale is that Connecticut currently has the cheapest gasoline price in the Northeast — an average of $4.946 for a gallon of regular, according to the AAA gas tracker.
To find gasoline cheaper, a motorist would have to drive south to Virginia or west to Iowa.
Chris Herb, the president of the Connecticut Energy Marketers Association, said one of Tuxis’ customers is a gasoline retailer near the Connecticut border with Massachusetts.
Sales there, he said, have doubled since Connecticut suspended its gas tax.