WATERBURY — It was the fourth of 17 town hall meetings Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is holding around the state to continue the conversation about his budget proposal, which includes the largest tax increase in state history.
Since holding his first one in Bridgeport three weeks ago, Malloy has edited down his opening remarks from 20-minutes to 10-minutes to allow more room for questions.
But there were few people at Waterbury’s City Hall Tuesday evening that wanted to ask an actual question, which the governor abides in short bursts.
Malloy, who seems to enjoy give and take, remains calm and confident when he responds to some of the comments and criticisms of his tax package.
“You have this sexy little statement: shared sacrifice,” Arthur J. Denze Sr. told Malloy, as the room burst into applause.
He said he and his fellow citizens in the Brass City have been sacrificing for the past 10 to 15 years. He said 44 states are in deficit, but not every state including Indiana and New York have sought tax increases to help erase their budget deficits.
New York has a $10 billion deficit and it’s not looking to raise taxes to solve it. He said Connecticut’s deficit is much smaller at $3.3 billion.
“We’re broke. We can’t pay tax increases any longer,” Denze told Malloy.
“At $3.3 billion our per capita deficit is substantially greater than New York’s,” Malloy told Denze. “In many states what they’re done is taken the expenditures states used to make on behalf of communities for education, for police, for other things and shifted that cost from state government to local government.”
Malloy said he decided not to do that in his budget. He said by holding Waterbury harmless for the state’s share of education funding means Denze and other Brass City taxpayers won’t see a 3 mill increase in their tax rates this year. The 3 mill increase would have been necessary to maintain current educational services if the state had failed to fund it.
“And again I don’t want to sound defensive about this, but I think some of this is simply not getting out,” Malloy told Denze.
Malloy explained that a man many in the room probably know very well negotiated a 20 year contract with the state employee unions. Malloy was referring to former Gov. John G. Rowland, who negotiated the contract when he was governor back in 1997. That contract doesn’t expire until 2017, so Malloy has asked the unions to come to the table and help him find more than $1 billion a year in concessions for the next two years.
“You probably voted for him,” Malloy told Denze.
“I voted for a few people that went to jail,” Denze said as the room broke out into laughter.
“So let me say this. Connecticut did not get into the problem you and I agree Connecticut is in right now overnight. And we’re not going to get out of it overnight,” Malloy said. “Please understand that this is intended to be a substantial balancing act in making the kinds of changes you would have liked to see six years ago or 12 years ago.”
“I understand your frustration,” Malloy told Denze.
“We’re partially to blame because we kept electing the same people year in and year out,” Denze said as the crowd burst into applause again.
Denze’s remarks were followed by those of Lisamarie Fontano, president of Local 387 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers and a Corrections Officer in Cheshire. Fontano asked Malloy before he looks for wage and benefit concessions from the state employee unions to try and implement the unions’ cost saving measures.
But Malloy concluded those cost saving measures aren’t big enough to close the gap.
He will need to find $2 billion over the next two years in order to close the budget gap without further spending cuts.
“If I trouble you because I’m asking you to come to the table then I apologize,“ Malloy told Fontano. “But don’t just hear my voice, hear the voice of everyone whose angry about their taxes.“
Aside from Denze who is angry about the tax increases and Fontano who is concerned about the concessions, dozens of others turned out to express their support for universal health care and W.F. Kaynor, one of the vocational technical schools Malloy wants to hand over to local government control.