The headlines generated by monthly Consumer Price Index updates have become reliable giveaways for Republican challengers like Bob Stefanowski, whose Connecticut gubernatorial campaign is narrowly focused on inflation the highest in 40 years.
On social media and in comments to the press, Stefanowski pounced on the latest numbers on Thursday with a reprise of his criticism that Gov. Ned Lamont and legislative Democrats have provided insufficient relief.
“We have a three and a half billion dollar fund for rainy days,” Stefanowski said in an interview. “For me, when you know families have to choose between buying food, gas or prescription drugs, that’s a rainy day.”
If inflation is a big part of what Stefanowski is talking about, that’s understandable to Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, an architect of the Democratic tax relief package passed in May and signed by Lamont.
“Well, that’s all the Democrats should be talking about too, right? I could be an outlier about that,” Scanlon said. “But I think that’s what the people think. And, as is sometimes the case, what people feel and what actually happens may be different. But either way, we have to be in this fight.
Scanlon, who used his position as co-chair of the finance, revenue and surety committee to push for the $250 child tax credit coming out this summer, said Democrats have a two-pronged story. to tell: the state cut taxes – while preparing for a recession by paying down debt and filling a reserve fund.
“We are heading into uncertain waters from a national and international economic perspective,” said Scanlon, the Democratic nominee for comptroller. “And we shouldn’t be so quick to make the same mistakes of the past – even if those are the politically easiest choices to make.” And I think ultimately people will reward that fiscal discipline and the balance that we’ve struck between substantial tax reform and saving money for rainy days.
The CPI figures released this week showed a 9.1% rise in prices in June from more than a year ago, more than offsetting any gain from higher wages. Adjusted for inflation, the real average hourly wage fell by 3.6% on an annual basis.
At all levels of politics, Republicans have made inflation the problem.
Quorum, a public affairs software company, tracked members of Congress’ mentions of inflation on social media and in official statements from January through April, finding that the GOP mentioned inflation six times more frequently. that the Democrats, Axios reported.
President Joe Biden’s approval rating fell to 39% this week, the lowest of any president at this point in his term since World War II. Without surprise, as FiveThirtyEight reported on Thursdayinflation is largely responsible.
Last month, U.S. Representative Alma Adams, DN.C., write an editorial in the Charlotte Observer arguing that blaming President Joe Biden for global inflation was “a new big lie” and urged Democrats to be more aggressive in their response.
“From gas pump stickers accusing Biden of gouging energy industry prices, to ‘Bidenflation’ claims, Republicans are winning the messaging war on inflation,” Adams wrote. .
But the vast majority of governors, including Lamont, are above water with positive net approval ratings — the difference between voters who approve and disapprove, according to the University of Virginia Center for Policy.
Lamont’s 22% is near the top among Democratic governors. Only John Carney of Delaware (26%) and Andy Beshear of Kentucky (23%) do better. Overall, Republican Charlie Baker of Massachusetts leads with 53%.
In Connecticut, Stefanowski tries both to blame Lamont for inflation, which he calls “Biden-Lamont inflation,” and to argue that an insensitive governor is hoarding money at the wrong time.
“Right now you have inflation at historic levels, gasoline prices at historic levels, energy prices at historic levels,” Stefanowski said. “We just learned that medical insurance is probably going to increase by 20%. Why the hell wouldn’t you take care of it when you have the money and the authority to do it, it makes absolutely no sense for me.
The Republican minority in the General Assembly made a similar argument when the budget passed on the basis of a direct party-line vote in the House and with limited GOP support in the Senate.
Budget provides more than $600 million in gas, income and property tax relief while increasing investments in health care, social services and early childhood development .
For retirees, it accelerates the exemption of pensions and annuities from income tax. For families, it provides a $250 per child credit on state income tax for low- and middle-income households, up to a maximum of $750.
“There’s always more we can do,” Scanlon said. “It’s just a question of whether we have to do it. And it’s ironic that the Democratic Party is, in some ways, the party of fiscal restraint right now, while the Republican gubernatorial candidate and some of his party members in the legislature act like the Democrats, in some ways. ways, used to act, which is ‘Let’s spend all this money we have.’
Stefanowski called for using $1 billion of the surplus for immediate relief by cutting sales tax from 6.35% to 5.99%, eliminating a 1% tax on prepared foods and suspending taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel. It would also repeal a highway user tax on heavy trucks that would take effect next year.
Connecticut suspended the 25-cent-per-gallon excise tax on gasoline until Nov. 30, the first state to do so. Its current average price of $4.552 per regular gallon is the lowest in the Northeast, but still $1.40 higher than a year ago.
Using the money for immediate tax relief instead of paying off Connecticut’s unfunded pension debt is not irresponsible, Stefanowski said.
“If you’re in a household and you’re barely earning enough to pay the mortgage, and you’re barely earning enough to feed your family, and you’re canceling your vacation and worrying about your electricity bill, you’re not prepaying on your mortgage,” Stefanowski said. “And that’s basically what he’s doing right now.”
House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said offering more relief would not only have undermined the state’s ability to prepare for a likely recession, but it would have been difficult given the limits imposed by state rules on the use of surplus funds and federal prohibitions. against the use of federal aid for tax cuts.
House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford, said that was misleading, given calculations by nonpartisan budget analysts that more cuts were possible without violating federal rules.
“Republicans aren’t letting this issue go, and we’re not going to,” Candelora said. “The bottom line is that I think they wanted to create a more robust pension reserve and refund, because the more pension you repay, the more money that frees up in our annual budgets to spend.”
“Off-year budgets” are the legislative talk for future budgets, and Ritter said caution now, even if it exposes Democrats to election-year attacks, could avoid drastic cuts next year.
“We could make a lot of dishonest decisions today which would mean that in a year or two we would be reducing ECS [education aid to towns] fund or cut child mental health or child care investments,” Ritter said.
Two fiscal moderates among Democrats seeking re-election to the State House said Friday they were comfortable running on their party’s relief.
“I feel like most of what I talk about all the time is portfolio issues,” said Rep. Jaime Foster, D-Ellington, whose seat was long in GOP hands before stepping down. win a 2020 open race in Ellington’s 57th home district. and Windsor East.
Foster said she’s knocked on 750 doors so far and conversations are longer this year than two years ago in the District, an agricultural region north of Hartford that has become more suburban over the past few years. last decades.
“When it comes to inflation and child tax credits, I get mixed reviews,” Foster said.
Older voters note the credit isn’t helpful to them, an opening for a broader conversation about their pensions about to be exempt from state income tax and increased assistance of the state that maintains the level of property taxes in many cities, she said.
“There’s something for everyone in this budget,” she says. “When we talk about inflation, the best thing I can tell people is that our budget has done great things for local communities. [finances]. I have delivered more money to my two cities than has been delivered in like 15 years.
Rep. Kerry Wood, D-Rocky Hill, a tax moderate who sometimes breaks with her party, voted for the budget as a source of direct and indirect tax relief. Two of the three towns in his district, Newington and Wethersfield, did not raise taxes.
But she acknowledged that inflation has changed the message. For voters, she characterizes tax cuts as compensation for higher prices, not a way to get ahead financially.
“They understand we’re in a period of inflation,” Kerry said. “It won’t last forever, but that’s how it is right now. And we’re going to do our best to get out of it. »
Before leaving for the National Governors Association meeting in Maine on Wednesday, Lamont said inflation was “beating” consumers, but a drop in some commodity prices raises hopes that inflation will start to subside. .
Scanlon said he shared the governor’s optimism, noting gasoline prices in Connecticut have fallen 43 cents per gallon over the past 30 days. He also noted that child tax refunds will come out in August in time for back-to-school shopping, a bit of a relief that could lift voters’ moods.
But there will also be three more consumer price index updates before voters head to the polls.