He was nervous for his first town hall in Bridgeport, but after 17 of them Gov. Dannel P. Malloy could almost anticipate the comments and questions and was prepared with an answer for almost every one of them.
His previous town hall meetings had followed a similar script with supporters of a universal health care proposal, union members, and average taxpayers lining up to tell him pretty much the same thing in different venues across the state. However, his last town hall meeting at Middletown High School didn’t necessarily follow the same script.
Salvatore Caracoglia, who is known to local police, caused a brief disturbance and was removed from the auditorium because he was not on the list of speakers and refused to get out of line. He was escorted out by Middletown police officers and a member of the audience shouted “take it easy on him.”
Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s senior communications adviser, said he was surprised nothing like that had happened at the previous 16 town hall meetings. The meeting was interrupted briefly, but quickly returned to normal.
Malloy, who seems to enjoy the back-and-forth with state residents, said he felt it was necessary to hold the town hall meetings because he knew that his budget proposal was different and “if we were going down a very different road than other states, then I had to get out and explain what I was trying to do.”
“I want you to understand we can no longer afford to be on the losing side,” Malloy told the crowd Tuesday. “We’ve got to be transparent. We’ve got to be honest . . . We have to have relationships with our state employees that are sustainable in the long run.”
But Malloy’s budget proposal is still a tough sell to some special interest groups, including labor unions whose members continue to push the governor to increase taxes on corporations and the wealthy to make up more of the deficit.
Bill Buhler, a pupil services specialist at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School in Middletown, encouraged Malloy to increase taxes on the wealthy. He said he doesn’t believe the economy is lifted by giving tax breaks to the wealthy. Instead it’s lifted by a strong middle class. The comment received applause from the audience.
“I’m having a hard time understanding exactly what the point is you’re making,” Malloy responded. “No other governor in the state’s history has ever proposed an Earned Income Tax Credit.“
Malloy received a similar round of applause.
The 30 percent Earned Income Tax Credit Malloy proposed will go to families making less than $40,000 a year. Malloy said he did this in order to lessen the burden some members of the low and middle income bracket may feel with his tax package. Opponents say the proposal gives a tax break to those not paying any income taxes, but proponents like Malloy say it will stimulate the economy when the people who receive the credit get out to spend it.
Paul Wessel, an organizer for the Healthcare4every1 campaign backing the SustiNet proposal, engaged the governor in a discussion and tried to get him to commit to a meeting with the Universal Health Care Foundation. Malloy declined, saying he’ll wait to see where conversations with his staff go first.
It was only around 7:20 p.m. and it was already Malloy’s second SustiNet question of the evening.
“We appreciate the fact that you support the goals of SustiNet. We want to sort of encourage you to jump on board,” Wessel told Malloy, using a train analogy. The SustiNet proposal was unveiled in 2009 at Union Station in Hartford where supporters plan to hold another rally in two weeks.
Malloy said he doesn’t support the idea of handing over to a quasi-public agency the management of more than $5 billion in state health insurance plans. Those plans represent about 20 percent of the state’s budget. That quasi-public agency, Malloy says, would then control the health insurance plans he currently negotiates.
The Healthcare4every1 campaign rallied outside Middletown High School prior to the meeting. Kevin Galvin, chair of Small Business for a Healthy Connecticut, said they requested a meeting with Malloy months ago. Then, after months of waiting for a response, they were required to send the governor’s office biographical information on those planning to attend the meeting. Galvin said he’s been to the White House several times and was only required to provide biographical information once.
Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who headed the SustiNet Board of Directors, has said she won’t comment on the legislation. Tuesday she asked everyone who supported SustiNet to stand in order to show the governor how much support there was for the measure. Then she asked those with comments on SustiNet to step aside and give others a chance to ask questions.
A Higganum woman told Malloy the Democratic legislature is to blame for the current fiscal budget situation. Malloy pushed back saying the former governor negotiated the budget with the legislature. He said his predecessor, Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, presented a budget two years ago that was $2.5 billion out of balance and wouldn’t admit it for months.
“So all the hard work that should have been two years ago never got done,” Malloy said. “Here I am a Democrat and I’m putting in GAAP [Generally Accepted Accounting Principles] in the midst of the biggest budget deficit we’ve ever had.”
The comment received a round of applause from the audience. He went onto tout the fact that unlike other governors he is not passing the state’s budget crisis down to municipalities, which likely would have to raise property taxes to make up the difference.
“I know a rapidly increasing property tax is a more regressive way to handle the problem,” Malloy said.
He said other states started addressing these issues long before this year, while he’s been left cleaning up the mess of previous Republican administrations.