Following Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s Wednesday address to a packed house of business and industry leaders, House Minority Leader Larry Cafero spent about three minutes praising the governor’s rhetoric before saying that his actions haven’t reflected those words.
Malloy and Cafero spoke at the Connecticut Business and Industry Association’s Business Day event where over 500 industry and business leaders converged on the Legislative Office Building. And Cafero began his remarks by pointing out what a breath of fresh air Malloy was.
“Make no mistake about it, when he walks in to a room, we know who’s in charge,” he said. “We needed that. I like that.”
Cafero said he wished the governor the best of luck, noting that if he doesn’t succeed the state doesn’t succeed. No one in the room could disagree with Malloy’s words since taking office, he said.
Taking the road less travelled, doing things differently, consolidating government, Cafero liked it all. Following up on a campaign promise to institute generally accepted accounting principles was a good first move, he said.
However, the inevitable “but” came when the Republican leader got to the budget proposal Malloy unveiled on Feb. 16., the details of which Cafero said left him a little confused.
“I’ll ask you, when you read the budget, did the details sort of seep through the psyche? Were you slapping each other fives in the board rooms? Were there backslaps at the water coolers?” he asked. He said he didn’t think that was the case.
Because for all the talk of shared sacrifice it seemed the governor failed to realize that some people have already been sacrificing, he said. That comment got an “amen” from someone in the crowd.
Business leaders have been sacrificing all along, he said. Over the years, time and again they have had to look a valued employee in the eye and say they could no longer afford to keep them, he said.
Utility bills, health insurance bills, tuition have all continued to rise, he said. Those are the sacrifices people in the state have endured, sacrifices that aren’t reflected in any budget document, he said.
And the sacrifices Malloy has proposed for the government sector just were not enough, Cafero said.
“You have to cut spending,” he said, three times in a row to the applause of the crowd. But the budget proposed increases spending by almost $1 billion over two years, he said.
What good is a consolidation of government that only saves $10 million, he asked. Cafero said he asked the governor’s staff how many people the state employs and was told it was about the equivalent of 47,000 full time people. Under the new budget, only 150 people would lose their jobs, he said.
No state services were being privatized, he said. Of all the state’s assets that could be shed to make government smaller, Malloy’s administration has only recommended closing a small, two-person police barracks in the Southeast end of the state, he said.
The budget has left people scratching their heads asking, “‘where’s the shared sacrifice?’ Somebody here ain’t sharing, folks,” Cafero said.
And the business leaders seemed concerned about a number of issues moving forward in the legislature. Among them was the proposed paid sick leave measure, something business advocates have been fighting for years. Senate Republican Leader John McKinney agreed that sort of mandate would damage the state’s business climate.
“You can’t say we’re pro-business, we want jobs, we want you guys to create jobs and then be the first state in the country to pass mandated paid sick leave. You can’t do it,” he said.
About 85 percent of businesses in the state with over 50 people already have paid sick leave, McKinney said. The ones that don’t are operating on such a thin margin they simply can’t afford it, he said. But even with a limited impact, the mandate sends the wrong message to the business community, he said.
Despite backing a number of unpopular proposals, Malloy was received warmly by the group, who gave him a standing ovation as he exited.
But the business leaders did not shy away from asking him tough questions. And Malloy seems used to that sort of encounter. On Tuesday night he attended his fourth town hall style meeting in Waterbury with residents, all of whom had something to hate in the budget, he noted.
The governor credited himself for publicly defending his budget rather than dropping it on the floor and retreating. But he joked that he may be a glutton for punishment.
“I’m doing these 17 town hall meetings. Honestly, you’re looking at a guy who may have a screw loose or something,” he said.
But the governor asked the business leaders to demand honesty and transparency from their elected officials. And in that, his message wasn’t that far off from Cafero’s message, which was to hold the legislature accountable for their actions.
“Hold my feet to the fire,” he told them. “Get in my face. Get in the face of every legislator in this building. Cause now it’s our turn. The governor did what he’s constitutionally supposed to do—submit a budget and now we have to come up with one and we need your help.”