Re-establishing a tradition eschewed by his predecessor, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy addressed the General Assembly early Thursday morning shortly before they adjourned and told them the “signature effort” of the legislation session was the two-year, $40.11 billion budget.
But even before Republican lawmakers could question his brief 9 minute remarks to a packed House chamber, Malloy was quick to admit that one more step needed to be taken before the budget was balanced. The $1.6 billion union concession package needs to be ratified by the state employee unions.
“I’m sure I speak for a lot of people when I say I hope they ratify the agreement so that we can avoid going to Plan B and large-scale and long-term layoffs,” Malloy told the General Assembly.
Earlier this week, the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis told Republican lawmakers they didn’t have enough information to verify the $1.6 billion in concessions estimated by Malloy’s administration and union leadership. But Malloy was not fazed by the revelation and told reporters this week that no matter what happens he will find those savings in order to balance the budget if the agreement is ratified.
“Upon ratification, Connecticut will have a state government that is sustainable,“ said Malloy. “That means government will be able to provide the services that are needed, but at a lower cost to taxpayers.”
And while he touted the progressive polices the legislature was able to pass this year — such as an earned income tax credit, paid sick days, decriminalization of marijuana, and a bill protecting transgender individuals — Malloy surprised many in the chamber by alluding to a special session this fall to deal solely with jobs.
“In the next few days I’ll be reaching out to legislative leaders to talk about coming back here in the fall so that we can have a special session that focuses on one thing: jobs,” Malloy told lawmakers. “We should feel good about what we did, but we should also be mindful of how much more there is to do.”
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said he bets Malloy surprised almost everyone in the chamber by mentioning a possible special session. Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, agreed, joking that UBS may have already moved back to New York by that time.
Earlier in the evening, Cafero said he’s disappointed the transparency Malloy promised at the beginning of the session never continued. The honeymoon between the first Democratic governor in 20 years and the minority party was over almost before it began.
He said they knew it would be a tough session with one party controlling the legislature and the governor‘s office, but he said what they didn’t know was that it was going to be one branch rule.
Cafero said Malloy has dictated most of the session and broke his promises to work with Republicans.
“Most of it is a disappointment. It’s been historic in all the wrong ways,” Cafero said citing the largest tax increase in the state’s history and legislation such as mandated paid sick days.
But Malloy believes stabilizing the state’s financing signals the business community and lets them know Connecticut is predictable.
“As you’ve heard me say many times, we needed to send the business community a message that we’re serious about stabilizing the state’s finances. We did that — and then some,” Malloy told the legislature Thursday.
But not everyone in the business community agrees.
Joe Brennan, senior vice president of public policy for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said the session was disappointing from a business perspective.
“We came in to this year thinking that getting our fiscal house in order and getting the economy on track would be what the session would focus on,” he said.
Brennan said it didn’t work out that way. Instead, the legislature passed the largest tax increase in state history, which hit medium and small businesses especially hard, he said, adding that not much was done to curb the cost of operating state government.
Connecticut becoming the first state in the nation to pass a law mandating some employers provide paid leave to employees was an especially negative signal to businesses, he said. And the fact that the captive audience bill was poised to get a vote in both chambers before the attorney general said it pre-empted federal law also was a bad sign, he said.
Brennan said the first session in 20 years under a Democratic governor looked a little different than past sessions. For one thing most of the budget was adopted far earlier than normal, he said. Malloy also behaved differently than his predecessors, he said.
“Seeing the governor engage some of the bills that we were interested in has been a change. We haven’t seen that as much over the last several years,” he said.
He noticed a difference in lawmakers as well, and not a good one. There was a starker disconnect between what legislators said on the campaign trail and where they stood when it came time to cast their votes, he said.
“A lot of people came in with high expectations because last November, when all these people were running for office, all they talked about was the economy and jobs being their top priority” but the votes cast over the course of the session did not reflect that, he said.
For better or worse, it’s clear Connecticut’s new governor is different and lawmakers, lobbyists, and staffers are still trying to figure him out. The breakneck speed and defense of his proposals have set forth a different pace to which many at the state Capitol are not accustomed.
Carroll Hughes, a veteran lobbyist, said one thing that distinguished this legislative session from those of the recent past was the addition of the “best lobbyist” to the building. The lobbyist he’s talking about is none other than Malloy.
“He’s very firm on his agenda, and he’s very direct,” Hughes said Wednesday evening. “He’s the best lobbyist I’ve ever encountered in my life.”
“I enjoy somebody whose still a mayor and can walk up to school children, lobbyists, reporters, veterans, and anyone else who visits the Capitol,” Hughes said. “He still enjoys people.” He said that’s different than previous governor’s who tend not to roam the building just to talk with people and shake their hands or listen to their stories.
Hughes said he’s disagreed with the governor on occasion, but when he does he lets him know and a dialogue ensues.
Click here for our previous story on the conclusion of the 2011 session.