Those who have worked with Gov.-elect Dan Malloy’s new budget director describe him as intelligent, agile, and a good public servant.
Ben Barnes, 42, of Stratford, accepted Malloy’s invitation and challenge to be the next Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management where he will play a key role in helping to eliminate the state’s $3.4 billion budget deficit.
Barnes, who worked in three different management positions under Malloy in Stamford, said he believes there are “a lot of ways to get around or over or past this mountain that’s in front of us.”
“I intend to keep all the options on the table and make sure we articulate those to the governor and the General Assembly and find the best way forward,” Barnes said. “I believe the concept of shared pain and shared sacrifice is critical to our success here and I think it’s going to involve a lot of very difficult decisions that are challenging for a great number of constituencies in Connecticut.”
He added that the numbers don’t offer any “silver bullets” to solve the problem.
Barnes, who served eight years under Malloy in Stamford, also worked as the Government Finance Director for the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.
Barnes’ former colleagues at CCM spoke fondly of him Wednesday.
“He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met,” Gian-Carl Casa, a lobbyist with CCM, said. “He’s a multi-talented guy who is very creative, diligent, and a hard worker.”
Jim Finley, executive director of CCM, said that when Malloy called him a decade ago looking for a bright guy, he immediately gave him Barnes’ name. Finley described Barnes as someone who has a great understanding of the numbers and the practical implications those numbers have on public policy.
Barnes currently works as the chief operating officer for the Bridgeport Public Schools where he oversees a $215 million budget. It’s a far cry from the $19 billion budget he’ll be handed next. Stamford’s annual operating budgets under Malloy were about $500 million.
While the size of the two budgets is drastically different, Barnes said there are a “great number of commonalities” in how state and local governments operate.
Malloy expressed confidence that Barnes has the expertise to deal with the state budget and to help transition it to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles—a Malloy campaign promise—while bringing transparency to the budgeting process.
Barnes is Malloy’s second administrative appointment. He first named Tim Bannon as his chief of staff. Further, several legislators and former legislators are waiting to be picked to serve in the administration.
Two names most frequently mentioned are Sens. Don DeFronzo of New Britain and Andrew McDonald of Stamford. McDonald once served as Malloy’s corporation counsel.
Both McDonald and DeFronzo refused to answered the question about whether they would be moving from one branch to another.
“I’m flattered to have been mentioned, but until we talk there’s not much to say,” DeFronzo said. McDonald laughed off the suggestion.