BRIDGEPORT —(Updated) As he entered before a standing-room only crowd of more than 200 at the Bridgeport City Hall Annex, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy admitted he was nervous and wasn’t quite sure how his first Town Hall meeting would go.

He received some applause here and there, easily defended his tax increase proposals to those unhappy with them, but it wasn’t until the final question that he became clearly animated.

The question came from Maria Vereb, a 30-year employee with the state Department of Social Services, who expressed her displeasure that he would ask state workers to giveback $1 billion a year in concessions or savings.

Malloy said the $300 million pension payment former Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the Democratically-controlled legislature agreed to delay in order to balance the budget does not count toward the $750 million the unions gave back two years ago.

“That’s not a savings,“ Malloy said criticizing Vereb’s claim the unions have been asked to give back enough.

He said the state needs to honor its obligation to the pension fund and not ignore it.

“We’re not saying we don’t want to help, but don’t ask us to do more,“ Vereb said after Malloy disappeared behind a double door. Vereb wasn’t the only angry state worker who attended.

Dawn Robinson, a Department of Mental Health and Addition Services employee, said that in order to achieve the $1 billion in savings, state employees would each need to give back $20,000 a year in wages.

Malloy went back to the unfunded pension liability and reiterated a familiar refrain: No mayor in their right mind would agree to a 20-year employment contract. The statement is a criticism of former Gov. John G. Rowland, who negotiated the current 20-year deal in 1997.

“All I can tell you is that all of my strength in the time that I have as governor will be directed toward making sure people are being treated fairly,“ Malloy said. “That we honor our agreements, and they’re going to have to be new agreements given the circumstances we’re under, and that we’ll hold people accountable.”

Aside from the unions — members of which dotted the room with their green and red shirts — taxpayers from all across southern Connecticut turned out to express their displeasure with Malloy’s proposal to increase taxes by $1.5 billion.

Jerry Cunningham of Stratford wanted to know how the public can take Malloy’s budget seriously when it includes an Earned Income Tax Credit for taxpayers that don’t pay any income taxes.

Malloy said he felt it was necessary to help those in the lower income brackets. He said that the tax credit — which can be up to $1,700 for those who earn under $21,500 a year — will be spent in the state of Connecticut.

Cunningham said he thinks Malloy would do well to sunset some of the tax increases he proposed. But he also applauded Malloy for showing up Monday evening to face an unpredictable crowd. He said the dialogue was much more constructive than what’s going on in other states like Wisconsin, where changes to collective bargaining rules reportedly have caused Democratic legislators to leave for Illinois as union members are marching around the state Capitol in Madison.

But he thinks Malloy should remember he wasn’t elected by any mandate, simply a small 6,440 margin. It’s a notion Malloy seems to understand.

“You’re hired to do a job and I knew that this was going to be a nasty job on day one,” Malloy told the crowd. “I almost lost this election because I wouldn’t take a pledge to do something that another candidate said he would do.”

The pledge Malloy was referring to was Republican Tom Foley’s pledge not to raise taxes.

Malloy’s budget proposes the biggest tax increase in the state’s history and it spares no income group of pain, but some seem to get hit harder than others.

Steve Brown of Oxford wanted to know why Malloy’s budget seems to add a bigger tax increase to the middle class than the wealthier residents.

Malloy answered by detailing what the previous governor and legislature did in terms of kicking the can down the road by using $1.6 billion in federal stimulus funds and borrowing close to $650 million over the past two years to operate state government.

And it was just 17 months ago that single filers making more than $500,000 a year and joint filers making $1 million a year saw their taxes increase from 5 percent to 6.5 percent. Malloy’s budget increases the top income brackets to just 6.7 percent and said a 3 percent additional luxury tax will be added to clothing priced above $1,000, cars priced above $50,000, and jewelry priced above $5,000.

Malloy opined that the middle class wouldn’t be paying those taxes because it’s unlikely they can afford those goods. Malloy used his wife’s 2002 Buick, which they purchased used for $7,000, as an example of something to which the additional 3 percent luxury tax would not be applied.

The event started at 7 p.m. and ended shortly after 8 p.m. About a dozen people had a chance to ask questions with Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch standing over their shoulders. It took about a twenty minutes for Malloy to explain his budget and what was in it, just in case those who showed up were unaware of some of the nuances.

Malloy will hold 16 more Town Hall meetings at the following locations:

February 24, 7-8 PM
City Hall Auditorium
140 Main Street

March 2, 7-8 PM
Jennings Elementary School
50 Mercer Street

March 8, 7-8 PM
Veteran’s Memorial Hall
235 Grand Street

March 9, 7-8 PM
City Hall, 3rd Floor
100 Broadway

March 14, 7-8 PM
City Council Chambers
111 North Main Street

March 15
Time & Location TBD

March 16, 7-8 PM
Common Council Room
245 DeKoven Drive

March 21
Time & Location TBD

March 22, 7-8 PM
Government Center
4th Floor Cafeteria
888 Washington Boulevard

March 23, 7-8 PM
Aldermanic Chambers
165 Church Street

March 28, 7-8 PM
Town Hall Meeting Room
101 Field Point Road

March 29, 7-8 PM
Lincoln Center Hearing Room
494 Main Street

March 30, 7-8 PM
Town Hall Auditorium
979 Main Street

April 4
Time & Location TBD

April 5
Time & Location TBD

April 6
Time & Location TBD


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