Lawmakers, union leaders, and business leaders say they will give Gov.-elect Dan Malloy time to tackle the state’s estimated $3.67 billion budget deficit, but several expect him to lay out his vision for the state in more detail when he’s sworn in Wednesday as Connecticut’s 88th governor.
R. Nelson Oz Griebel, president of the MetroHartford Alliance and one-time gubernatorial candidate, said he would like to hear Malloy lay out a vision similar to that of newly elected Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who talked about the seven steps he will take to create 700,000 jobs over seven years.
Griebel said getting Connecticut back on track and growing jobs in a state that has been dead last in job growth over the past two decades is all about perception.
“Being pro-business is about getting people back to work,” Griebel said. And the mere perception that a Malloy administration will be working toward that goal will go a long way, he said.
Griebel understands Malloy will be speaking mostly in generalities, but he hopes he gives more specifics about his vision to shrink the size of state government and possibly address its unfunded pension liability by talking about some long term and tough decisions the state will have to make over the next few years.
In December when Malloy addressed the MetroHartford Alliance he told the group: “We can’t cut spending by $3.5 billion. We can’t raise taxes by $3.5 billion.” But Griebel said he’s expecting a little bit more detail than that when Malloy reaches the podium Wednesday afternoon.
House Speaker Chris Donovan said he expects Malloy to talk about a new beginning and how to rebuild the economy.
“I also expect to hear it’s going to be tough,” Donovan said. But he expects Malloy to call for cooperation, a concept that Donovan said has eluded previous governor’s in dealing with the legislature and state budget.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said he’s going to give Malloy some time and space to get his arms around the budget deficit, but expects him to verify “we are in very bad shape.”
“There’s no sugarcoating it. We all have to deal with it,” Cafero said.
“For the last two years we’ve all talked about how balancing the budget will mean tax increases, spending cuts, and borrowing,” Cafero said. But he said for the past two years little attention has been paid to spending cuts, the middle part of the three-legged stool.
“We can no longer afford not to cut spending,” Cafero said.
As for Malloy’s speech to the General Assembly Wednesday, Cafero said he expects hear that everyone, including the Republican lawmakers who represent more than 1.2 million constituents, will have a seat at the table.
Sharon M. Palmer, president of AFT Connecticut, said Malloy has already done a good job at reaching out to all the different constituency groups and developing working relationships with all the stakeholders.
“We’re cautiously optimistic we’ll have a seat at the table,” Palmer said.
She said she hopes her expectations for what Malloy will say Wednesday and what she wants him to say are one in the same.
“Connecticut faces challenges it hasn’t experienced in a long time,“ said Sal Luciano, executive director of AFSCME Council 4.
He said two of the issues he’s focused on are the cost of healthcare benefits and the operation of the State Contracting Standards Board, where “a lot of money is wasted.”
The unions are pushing hard for SustiNet because it will save the state money on state and municipal employees health benefits, which is driving the unfunded pension liability, Luciano said. He said SustiNet would lower the cost of health benefits for employees from $30,000 per family, per year to $15,000 or $16,000 a year.
“Making healthcare benefits less expensive is a priority,” Luciano said.
Getting the State Contracting Standards Board funded and operating properly to make sure all contracts are clean and consistent and conducted in the most efficient manner is also a priority for Luciano.
Luciano was cautious when discussing the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition agreement last negotiated in 2009 with Gov. M. Jodi Rell. The current agreement regarding state employees salaries is good through June 30 and the benefits package, including health and pension, is good through 2016. The concession package agreed to in 2009 saved the state about $700 million through June 30 of this year.
“The only conversations we’re having are about ways to improve services,” Luciano said. “It’s the first time in a long while that we’ll work in partnership with a governor that wants to protect state services.”
On the campaign trail and after the campaign Malloy consistently has said he will work with state employee unions to try and make government more sustainable and affordable. He has said his relationship with labor unions is built on mutual respect.
It’s unclear whether he will be any more specific about this relationship with labor unions or his relationship with the business community when he addresses the General Assembly on Wednesday afternoon moments after being sworn in as the state’s 88th governor.