Monday night wasn’t a typical town hall meeting for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. Instead of being criticized for increasing taxes, he was criticized for not increasing taxes enough on the wealthy and corporations. He also received a fair amount of criticism for his lack of support for SustiNet, the state’s universal health care legislation.
The individuals, picked by a lottery at Kinsella Magnet School, weren’t so sure a $3.3 billion deficit merited a lack of funding in certain areas such as health care.
Wildaliz Bermudez of Hartford told Malloy that when she graduated from Trinity College she was unable to find work and ended up moving back home with her mother. At the time she didn’t have health care and ended up needing medication that cost close to $1,000 a month. She said if SustiNet was in effect during that time she would have benefited from a health insurance plan she could afford.
“I embrace the desires and goals of SustiNet,” Malloy said. “We’ve got a pretty big challenge ahead of us. Number one I’ve got a $3.3 billion deficit. Number two between now and 2014 we have to implement the federal health care changes enacted one year ago. Both of those things are pretty big tasks.”
He told Bermudez that under the federal plan, which he embraces and is working to implement, she would have no cost or low cost health insurance too. He then turned the table on her and asked how much SustiNet will cost over the next two years.
“I don’t think it’s about how much it will cost, but how much it will actually save,” Bermudez told Malloy as the crowd applauded. Malloy recited his budget deficit figures again.
“If you don’t have healthy constituents then what’s the point of fixing the deficit,” Bermudez’s sister chimed in.
Malloy insisted he will have this discussion, but urged Bermudez and her sister to come back with some figures.
The SustiNet legislation was passed by the Human Services Committee Friday to the floor of the House where it will return with a fiscal note attached before it makes it to several more committees.
In addition to health care advocates the nonprofit community and labor unions were out in full force at Hartford’s town hall meeting.
Several members of AFSCME one of the states unions which has offices near Kinsella School wondered what Malloy is doing to get rid of the layers of administration between them, the frontline workers, and him. Malloy admits there are layers to state government he’s trying to peel back, but wasn’t ready to commit to getting rid of those non-union managers just yet.
“We have too much management. I said that during the election and I’ll say it now,” Malloy told Beth Smith, a union worker. “But I gotta tell you this that I haven’t learned everything I need to know about everyone of these positions we need to eliminate.”
He said the second year of the budget doesn’t have enough money in it for the state to continue its current habits. The second year of the budget presumes “we’re going to find the kinds of cuts, eliminations, savings that we can live within that budget.”
“My goal is to address Connecticut’s systemic problems,” Malloy said. “And its systemic problems are: We have failed to grow jobs in this state for 22 years.”
“Everyone’s for shared sacrifice, except when it comes to them,” Malloy said as the crowd collectively groaned. “I don’t mean everybody. Many people,” he said correcting himself.
He said he’s simply trying to get a budget that changes the state’s direct at the same time he doesn’t want to do what other states have done by passing its obligations to local cities and towns.
Malloy spent a lot of time touting his state Earned Income Tax Credit for families making under $40,000 a year, but even supporters of the tax credit wanted to know if Malloy would be willing to modify the impact of his tax package on the middle class earning slightly more than that.
Raphael Podolsky, a lawyer and lobbyist, thanked Malloy for his housing initiatives and the EITC, but wanted to know if there was any wiggle room in the tax package, which seeks to save $365 million next year by eliminating the $500 property tax credit for those earning between $50,000 and $60,000 per year.
“In round numbers I think we have it right,” Malloy told Podolsky. “About $800 million in cutting, about $1 billion in concessions, and about $1.5 billion in tax increases. I think that’s the right formula.”
Malloy was unable to predict what the legislative process may have in store for his budget proposal, which made it hard for him to answer Podolsky’s question.
“There are things to tinker with in that model, but I think it’s the right model,” Malloy said.