It was more than three years ago that CTNewsJunkie.com started paying a diverse group of columnists to contribute their opinions to the site. The addition of commentary to an already steady stream of hard news from the Capitol helped the site grow its community of readers, and eventually led to the next logical leap last week when an editorial board was formed.
On Friday, the group of five editorial writers — Melissa Ozols, Sarah Darer Littman, Susan Bigelow, Terry Cowgill, and Heath Fahle — met for the first time with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy for a wide-ranging, hour-long interview.
For those of us who had met him during his election campaign, Malloy struck us as a palpably different individual. He doesn’t let you down easy anymore — disagreements aren’t your view versus his so much as they are right versus wrong. In an “always-on” age when everyone is trying to score points at Mr. Malloy’s expense, he is a cautionary tale for anyone with dreams of being governor.
Malloy’s plans to reform public education in Connecticut dominated much of the discussion. Questions about high-stakes testing, teacher turnover rates, and tenure were all dispensed with a mix of the usual recounting of his own ill experience in school and a new sophistry: “Was there ever a teacher in your child’s school that you wanted them to avoid?”
When questioned on the issue of regionalizing school districts, the governor answered with a question: “How small is too small?” Answering his own question, he suggested school districts serving less than 1,000 students might fit the bill, but he also acknowledged Connecticut’s longstanding love affair with home rule.
But fair funding of education and creating economies of scale aren’t necessarily the focus of the package Malloy unveiled on Feb. 8.
The governor’s focus is clearly on teacher evaluation and on tenure specifically; he returned to the point that in every school, teachers and parents know who the bad teachers are. He wants to get rid of them, and he believes that this, along with his other reforms, acts as a “down payment” on addressing other potential areas needing improvement in education, such as special education and issues of poverty and class.
On the state’s budget, the governor contextualized the current red ink to last year’s, comparing a potential deficit of less than hundreds of millions of dollars to the $3.5 billion deficit addressed in 2011. Put another way, size matters.
The headline was “Sunday Sales” but the actual proposal on the topic is better termed “liquor law reform.” Minimum pricing, voluntary Sunday sales, and other market inefficiencies are targeted for elimination under the plan.
And although some economists say $4.50 per gallon gasoline is on the horizon with the price of regular up 22 cents over the past month, Malloy was dismissive of efforts to cap or eliminate the gasoline gross receipts tax, citing the need to repair the state’s infrastructure and the concomitant requirement to raise some other tax to offset it. He supports tolling at the state borders, but was fatalistic about the prospects of it happening anytime soon. He noted that the federal government had turned down Rhode Island’s application for a highway toll — news of which had only been posted by The Associated Press about 90 minutes before Friday’s meeting.
Lastly, Malloy stated again that one potential use for the Hartford-New Britain busway, should it not be a success, would be as a replacement artery into Hartford when the Aetna Viaduct comes down for repair. However, the governor believes that the busway won’t be a failure. That still leaves us with questions about what to do with I-84 when the time comes.
The governor addressed the public brouhaha on arts funding as well. He highlighted examples of how the distribution of funds was almost wholly based on who was in power at the Capitol rather than which causes were most worthy. The Malloy administration seeks, somewhat artlessly, to shift to a competitive grant-funding model that requires performance measures and achievement in exchange for state funding.
The discussion was, in sum, a revealing look into both the person and the policies that are Dannel P. Malloy. Combative, confident, and closely attuned to the world, he is best defined in contrast to the previous governor, M. Jodi Rell. While Rell never seemed to escape the role of lieutenant governor, Malloy clearly relishes his office. He is using his gubernatorial power to prepare Connecticut for a vision of the future that he sees clearly, and it will be his legacy.
He’s well-informed and clearly zealous in his pursuit of better education, but also perhaps defensive of his positions to the point of entrenchment. However, some members of the editorial board felt it was impossible to miss a sense of momentum when speaking to him, which is welcome change.