His first budget address wasn’t universally panned, nor was it universally praised by lawmakers and special interest groups.
Most praised Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy for his honesty and bravery in seeking to restore the state’s fiscal stability, but many were not enamored with the tax hikes and state employee concessions.
“It’s a tough budget, but he issued a challenge to each and everyone of us,” House Speaker Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, said. “He’s asking us to share in the solutions to moving our state forward, so I’m excited about that.”
“It’s a balanced budget, it’s an honest budget, it’s a tough budget,” he said. “But he’s also willing to work with each and everyone of us to make sure it’s a fair budget.”
Donovan said he hasn’t seen the details yet of some of the cuts and increases in co-pays to the low-income adults Medicaid program, which some advocates say could hinder access to care. Trying to be optimistic, Donovan said at least he didn’t eliminate vision and dental services for that population like former Gov. M. Jodi Rell did two years ago.
“He’s talking about limiting them and we’ll be checking that out,” Donovan said.
Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said Malloy is “off to a good start.”
He said at least they don’t have to fight over the amount of the deficit like they did in 2009 when Rell proposed her budget, which was $2 billion shy of the real deficit figure.
Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford, who knows Malloy well said he presented his budget address with “firmness and a certainty of his vision.”
“I expected him to come in, give it to us straight, tell us where he thought we need to be and where he thinks we need to go,” said Tong.
And that’s just what Malloy did.
“This wasn’t a light and fluffy speech,” said Tong. “We got some soaring rhetoric at the very end, but that was more in the nature of a summation.”
Republicans were more cautious with their praise of the first Democratic governor in 20 years.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said he thinks it was a well-delivered speech and found little to disagree about regarding the principles Malloy applied to the budget.
But he said the cost to run government is slightly higher than it was last year and Malloy’s asking taxpayers and even those who receive state services, to share more with a proposed $1.5 billion in tax increases.
“That’s where the disconnect is,” Cafero said. “But man, meet us halfway. Cut your spending.”
What Cafero didn’t take issue with was Malloy’s strong message to the state employee unions, who will be asked for $2 billion, over two years, in concessions and cost savings.
“I give him credit and I think it was very courageous,” Cafero said of Malloy’s message to labor unions.
Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy wasn’t as convinced by Malloy’s tone with the state labor unions.
“It hinges on a promise rather than a guarantee that we’re going to find billions of savings through concessions from state employees without directly raising the issue,” Healy said, adding that Malloy only talked about layoffs in passing. “Until that’s on the table we’re kidding ourselves about getting those type of savings.”
As for the consolidation of state agencies by 30 percent, Healy said Malloy is in the best position to shrink the size of government.
“It’s sort of a Nixon goes to China thing,“ said Healy. “Only a Democrat could make dramatic changes in the size of government.”
But Healy doesn’t think the legislature’s Democratic majority has it in them to make those changes.
The state’s Democratic majority has never demonstrated a willingness to even do without redundant services, he said.
Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo said the governor did exactly what he promised to do on the campaign trail.
“He presented an honest, responsible budget with shared sacrifices,” she said.
Connecticut Business & Industry Association President John R. Rathgeber said that, while he didn’t like the size of Malloy’s $1.5 billion tax increases, there was a lot to like in the governor’s address.
“His speech really hit the right chord,” Rathgeber said. “He clearly underscored the importance of getting the economy moving by trying to restore business confidence in the state in order to not only solve our fiscal problems but quite frankly get people back to work and make our communities healthier.”
Rathgeber said he was impressed by the detail Malloy went into on the cost-savings he was looking for from the state employee unions. The governor outlined a number of things that could be done without seeming draconian.
Rathgeber said he is hopeful that Malloy’s proposal will become a launch-point for the legislature, the administration and communities to work together to identify other spending reductions.
The business community has been a strong supporter of education reform, Rathgeber said so he was pleased when the governor put that on the table for discussion.
The labor unions were less enthusiastic about what Malloy had to say Wednesday.
The unions, who would have preferred a steeper increase in the income taxes on the state’s wealthier residents, said they’re willing to sit down and talk with the governor, but no formal negotiations have begun.
“We gave him a few ideas about savings, he gave us a few ideas about savings and now we’ve got to find some way to get together and have a discussion about them,” Leo Canty, vice president of AFT-CT, said following Malloy’s address.
“We have vowed to continue to work with the Malloy administration both in the short term and the long term to make the ideas of front-line public service workers part of the permanent process of transforming state government to better serve the families of this state.” Larry Dorman a spokesman for the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition said Tuesday in a statement. “Whether the proposed budget had $1 of assumed savings in it, or $10 billion dollars, we will work hard to protect and enhance the public structures Connecticut needs for a better future.”
Hugh McQuaid contributed to this report.