Today will be the first time Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will have to stand before a room full of taxpayers to really sell his budget.
And it may be tough sell, since his proposal includes $1.5 billion in tax increases and $1.76 billion in spending cuts, most of which hinge on $1 billion in unspecified labor concessions.
“Really, I’ve spent a lot of time preparing for this moment,“ Malloy told WFSB’s Dennis House during an interview on “Face the State,” which aired Sunday morning.
But no matter how much Malloy has prepared and no matter how angry he is that the previous governor and legislature failed to address some of the structural deficits, taxpayers are still going to be upset. Malloy has proposed increasing the income, sales, gas, and cigarette taxes, as well as the elimination of some tax exemptions.
“I think people understand that this is a difficult time and I think if you even look at the tenor of the discussion, for the most part, it’s not about whether we need to raise taxes,” Malloy said. “This discussion has turned on, ‘How much do we need to raise taxes?’ and that makes Connecticut very different from the other states.”
He said few people are suggesting the budget he was handed on Nov. 15 by former Gov. M. Jodi Rell was something from which he can cut $3.5 billion and have “Connecticut remain the state it is.”
Republican lawmakers have criticized Malloy’s budget and suggested it doesn’t strike the right balance between spending cuts and tax increases. Democrats didn’t receive everything they wanted in the budget proposal, but they have taken a more measured approach to criticizing some of the cuts. And the labor unions, who were asked to sacrifice $1 billion a year in concessions and other savings, have argued that the state isn’t raising taxes enough on the wealthy.
Malloy admitted to House that he is taking some partisan hits on the budget, but he countered that he isn’t the one who negotiated a 20-year contract with the state employee unions.
“What governor in their right mind would have agreed to a 20 year guaranteed benefit package for employees?” Malloy said of the state employee benefit and pension package put in place by former Gov. John G. Rowland. The deal expires in 2017.
He said the deal was constructed so that the state’s pension payments would start low and increase toward the end of the contract.
“The people who made these very bad decisions a long time ago didn’t pay for any of it or didn’t have to tax for any of it,” Malloy said. “Somebody’s got to be the adult in the room and someone has to say it’s time to downsize our obligations, but also fund our obligations.”
Last year, Rell and the Democrat-controlled General Assembly agreed to postpone a $300 million pension payment to the state employee fund in order to help balance the budget. Malloy has refused to postpone or delay anymore payments to the fund, which has a $42 billion in unfunded liability.
Over the past two years, Rell and the Democrats also agreed to borrow $650 million in Economic Recovery Notes to pay for operating expenses and depleted the $1.4 billion Rainy Day fund. That was on top of spending close to $1.6 billion in federal stimulus funds.
Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy hoped to use Malloy’s budget speech last week to help get Republicans elected during Tuesday’s nine special elections. None of the elections will give Republicans a majority in either the House or the Senate, but some have said the races will be a referendum on Malloy’s budget proposal.
In an email to supporters, Healy said the special elections, most of which are related to administrative appointments Malloy made in December, will be “our first chance to show Governor Malloy that the people of Connecticut won’t be bullied.”
The first stop on Malloy’s budget tour will be Bridgeport, where on Tuesday there will be a special election for former state Rep. Chris Caruso’s seat.
Asked if he feels his budget address will impact the special elections, Malloy responded: “I think we’ll lose some seats. We’ll probably win some seats. I think everyone will make their interpretation, but I can’t worry about that. The good of the whole of Connecticut is more important than any one special election.”
Malloy also noted that his good friend Rep. Carlo Leone is running for former Sen. Andrew McDonald’s seat in his hometown of Stamford.
Democrats hold a 94 to 51 majority over Republicans in the House and a 20-13 majority over Republicans in the Senate. With three Senate seats up for grabs in the special election, Republicans would still be four votes short of the majority if they win all three. But if they pull off three victories, it will be the closest they have been to a majority in years.
Six House seats will be up for grabs as well, but Republicans were unable to find a candidate to run against Robert Sanchez in the 25th House District in New Britain, so they only have a shot at five and a chance to bring its membership in that chamber to 56 members.
“While we don’t have a chance to pick up any seats I’m confident we’ll keep the ones we have,” House Speaker Chris Donovan said recently, adding that he didn’t believe Malloy’s budget address will impact the special elections one way or another.
Click here to read more about the special elections on Tuesday.
Today’s first town hall meeting will begin 7 p.m. at the City Hall Annex in Bridgeport.