CROMWELL — For years, Connecticut governors have used their annual holiday address at the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce to deliver some light-hearted remarks. But in his comments to the group on Tuesday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy maintained a serious tone for the second year running, saying afterward, “I don’t do humor well.”
Malloy spoke for around 20 minutes Tuesday morning to the annual gathering of business leaders at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Cromwell. The governor said the sold-out event of more than 1,000 business people was a chance to communicate his message, rather than poke fun as his predecessors did.
“To waste it by devoting a speech to humor or anything else is just that, it’s a wasted opportunity. People need to understand where we’re trying to take the state. So I exercise those opportunities,” he said.
Malloy used his time to share his vision for the state and highlight areas he felt he has made progress since taking office. The governor touched on the state’s efforts to reform its education system as well as the energy proposal he unveiled this year, which promotes expanded use of natural gas.
“Right now natural gas is selling for about a third the price of oil and based on all the recent finds in our country and in Canada, we can reasonably predict that natural gas will remain substantially less expensive,” he said.
He also spoke about recent efforts to train Connecticut’s workforce to fit the jobs that are available in the state. Malloy touted last year’s bipartisan legislation aimed at improving job growth, which, among other things, funded the replication of a successful manufacturing training program at several of the state’s community colleges.
“Ultimately what we need to do is to grow that at even more of our community colleges so that we can be assured that Connecticut will have a place in precision manufacturing,” he said.
Malloy said the state still has structural problems, which he is taking seriously. But he attempted to put the current projected budget deficit — pegged at either $415 million or $365 million — within the context of the $3.67 billion deficit he inherited when he took office two years ago.
“It was the largest per capita deficit in the nation. That’s where we were two years ago,” he said adding the deficit would have been worse if it had been calculated under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.
“That was the circumstances under which [Lt. Gov.] Nancy [Wyman] and I took the reigns of state government and from that day forward, we have tried to play this thing as straight as possible,” he said.
Malloy called the current deficit only one tenth the size of the one he inherited, which he said was evidence the state was making progress.
But the governor’s remarks weren’t all serious. He took a moment early on to poke fun at the chamber’s president and University of Connecticut Board of Trustees Chairman Larry McHugh. In his remarks, McHugh called the Middlesex chamber the greatest of its kind.
“I can’t talk about everybody, so I’ll talk about Larry’s favorite subject: Larry,” he said. “I don’t know whether its the greatest chamber of commerce in the universe, but I know it’s the greatest one here and I know it’s great because of him.”
But Malloy’s speech was generally more somber than those of the governors who have come before him. In her final speech to the chamber former Gov. M. Jodi Rell made jokes at the expense of everyone from former Gov. John Rowland, then-Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, to Malloy himself for his penchant for wearing green ties during the campaign.
Rowland used to use the address to poke fun at his political rivals and the news media through “Twas the Night Before Christmas” spoof.
Malloy’s spokesman, Andrew Doba, said it didn’t seem appropriate to use the speech to joke around as the state struggles through tough economic times. He characterized the tone of the governor’s speech as “defiantly optimistic.”
For his part, Malloy seemed willing to let go of holiday convention altogether. Asked if the poem tradition was effectively dead as long as he was in office, Malloy answered in the affirmative.
“By the way, in my opinion, it was killed by other governors,” he added.