(Updated 4:36 p.m.)It wasn’t the speech Gov. Dannel P. Malloy envisioned giving to start the third year of his term. Malloy, who has yet to announce a 2014 re-election bid, got emotional as he talked about the Sandy Hook School shooting and the bravery of the teachers and first responders.
A man known more for his sharp elbows and tough work ethic, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said there’s nothing an elected official can do to prepare for such a tragedy.
It fell to Malloy, who raced down to Newtown Dec. 14 when he got the news, to inform some of the the 26 victims’ families that their loved ones weren’t coming home. Those emotions were still raw for the governor as he rang in the start of the 2013 legislative session with his State of the State address.
Malloy’s voice faltered Wednesday when he looked across the House Chamber at Newtown First Selectwoman Patricia Llodra and School Superintendent Janet Robinson, who were seated next to his wife and sons.
“What befell Newtown is not something we thought possible in any of Connecticut’s beautiful towns or cities. And yet, in the midst of one of the worst days in our history, we also saw the best of our state,” Malloy said in a shaky voice.
It didn’t take long for Malloy to regain his composure as he transitioned to gun control, and later the state’s budget deficit and economic challenges.
“When it comes to preventing future acts of violence in our schools, let me say this: more guns are not the answer,” Malloy said to a standing ovation. “Freedom is not a handgun on the hip of every teacher, and security should not mean a guard posted outside every classroom.”
Malloy formed a 16-member advisory commission to recommend public policy for mental health, gun control, and school security, but House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said he thinks the legislature can tackle some of the issues by the end of February.
Sharkey, House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, and the chairs of the Public Safety Committee visited state police headquarters yesterday to learn more about gun permitting and sale issues.
“I went in thinking there’s some clear, low-hanging fruit we can act on right away and what I came away with was those solutions may not be the panacea we expect,” Sharkey said. “I think we might have to go a little deeper.”
But at the end of the day, Sharkey walked away thinking gun control is not an issue that’s dividing Connecticut along party lines. He said as long as it’s done in an intelligent way and brings in the other side to hear the whole issue and act appropriately — that will produce the best legislation in the long-term.
“The worst thing we can do is have a knee-jerk reaction and act too quickly,” Sharkey said following Malloy’s speech.
Cafero agreed that gun legislation is not a partisan issue here in Connecticut.
“The incident that rang through the world happened here in Connecticut and we are going to deal with it one way or the other,” Cafero said after Malloy’s speech. “I hope Washington is not only watching what we do, but how we do it.”
Cafero said there are Republicans and Democrats on both sides of the issue. He said he hopes the legislative response to the Sandy Hook shootings will be as bipartisan as the deficit mitigation bill the General Assembly passed last month.
While many officials have suggested banning ammunition magazines that carry more than 10 rounds, Cafero said he came away from Tuesday’s meeting feeling like the proposal would be ineffective given how many of the magazines are already out there.
“There are hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of high capacity magazines that are already there and by banning them, you make them immediately illegal. And if you think people are going to turn them in, you’ve got another thing coming,” he said.
Cafero suggested that passing a law that requires gun owners to get a permit in order to purchase any rifle that uses an external magazine. Currently, someone buying a handgun is required to have a permit but owners of long guns are not required to have one.
“That goes a long way without taking away the hunting rifle, etc. There are a lot of things we could do,” he said.
But gun control isn’t the only issue facing the state.
Malloy acknowledged they’ve tackled some tough fiscal issues in the past and will be asked to do the same again as Connecticut, like the rest of the nation, waits for the economy to recover.
However, Malloy is bullish about his ability to erase budget deficits. He won’t let lawmakers or the general public forget that when he took office two years ago the state faced “the single largest per-capita deficit in the nation.” In his first year, Malloy and the Democrats in the legislature erased a $3.67 billion deficit with tax increases and changes to the state’s relationship with its labor unions.
“We came together and passed a balanced budget. We cut more than we added in new revenue,” Malloy said Wednesday.
“Anyone who tells you that the budget we passed two years ago didn’t do its job, that it didn’t make real change in how we approach our finances, is simply not telling the truth,” Malloy said. ”I know that many of you cast hard votes to fix those problems. That’s the kind of resolve and leadership that we’re bringing back to Connecticut.”
Following the speech, Republicans pushed back on the assertion they haven’t been telling the truth when they’ve said Malloy’s budget didn’t do its job. Cafero said Malloy was using “revisionist history” as he looked back on the impact of his first two year budget.
He said fewer people are working in the state than were two years ago, unemployment is still hovering around 8.8 percent, and the state is once again facing a multi-billion deficit over the next biennium. Malloy and lawmakers will tackle another $2.3 billion budget deficit over the next two years.
“Anyone who believes that we in the state of Connecticut are in a better place than we were two years ago, I’d like to hear why. Obviously, he does and I disagree with it,” Cafero said.
Senate Republican Leader John McKinney said he wasn’t surprised Malloy did not dwell on the state’s fiscal woes during his address. He said no one likes to focus on bad news. Still, McKinney thought the governor went a little far if he was accusing Republicans who disagreed with the success of his budget of lying.
But McKinney seemed optimistic about this year’s upcoming budget negotiations due to the bipartisan nature with which lawmakers and the governor’s office erased most of last year’s deficit. He said he expects Republicans will be included this year.
“I’m going to engage in a bipartisan budget process starting now until I’m told otherwise. And if it’s otherwise, then they’ll leave me with no choice but to propose an alternative and criticize his where I think it deserves to be criticized,” he said.
In the meantime, Malloy talked about the ongoing national conversation regarding competition among states for businesses.
“We can’t stick our heads in the sand or simply hope for the best. Not when other states are actively recruiting jobs from every corner of the globe — jobs that can and should come to Connecticut,” Malloy said.
Malloy has received some criticism for his program that gives low-interest loans and grants to companies that promise to create 200 jobs over a certain period of time. But thus far Malloy has pushed back and made it clear that he isn’t ready to back down from his position.
He said the program, which has given money to a handful of companies in addition to a nonprofit genetic research laboratory in Farmington, has driven more than $2 billion in private investment.
“We must compete for every single job. With that mindset, we’ve begun to tackle the challenge of economic development in a holistic way,” Malloy said.
Malloy, a history buff, ended his speech by reminding the state that it has a history for overcoming challenges.