Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, one of two Republican candidates for governor, had the stage all to himself Wednesday night at the Hartford Public Library.
He was supposed to share the spotlight with Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, but only a few hours before the event he bowed out of the race. The endorsed Republican candidate, Tom Foley, declined an invitation to participate.
McKinney admitted that he was surprised by Boughton’s decision to call it quits Wednesday.
“Look, you don’t ever pick your matchup,” he said. “My message is the same.”
Boughton’s decision to drop out of the race was based largely on his prediction that without a running mate he was not going to be able to qualify for public financing.
McKinney also had yet to reach the $250,000 fundraising goal in order to qualify for the grant. He teamed up with former U.S. Comptroller David Walker at the Republican convention in May, but the two have continued to raise money separately.
McKinney said they’ve already qualified to get the financing, but they’re going to continue fundraising separately in order to access all the funding available to them.
“We’re getting closer, but there’s a delicate balance in the timing it takes to get there and the timing you need to run a competitive campaign,” McKinney said. “I’m confident we’re going to qualify for public financing.”
That said, he said “it’s not about the money, it’s about the message. We’ll have the money we need to run a campaign.”
The campaigns have until July 18 to raise the money and receive the grant.
McKinney had the room of about 20 voters to himself on Wednesday in Hartford, but he didn’t win over all of them.
“Our delegation voted for Foley because we had a promise from him to do street work in the city of Hartford,” Michael McGarry, a Hartford resident and member of the state Republican Committee, said.
By “street work” what McGarry is referring to is campaign help and resources for its local campaign against the Democrats and the Working Family Party members on the Hartford City Council.
“We got a promise from Foley that Foley would help us in running a real campaign, which Republicans have a hard time in Hartford doing,” he said.
McKinney couldn’t make that same promise to McGarry.
In 2010, McKinney said that he and House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero were able to create a unified platform for every state representative and state senator to use in their campaigns.
“I have always, as a Republican leader, reached out to work with candidates from throughout the state,” McKinney said.
He said as far as promises to Hartford go, he can promise that if elected he won’t give one penny to Hartford for a minor league baseball stadium.
The discussion, which was moderated by Mark Pazniokas of the CT Mirror, touched upon a number of topics from transportation funding to economic development and the Earned Income Tax Credit.
McKinney said he has been one of the few Republicans who voted for the Earned Income Tax Credit in the past, but in 2011, when it was part of Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget, he voted against it.
“I think Ronald Reagan was right. I think giving people their money is better than giving them a government program,” McKinney said. “But let’s understand this, that the plan in place right now was put in in a time the state could ill-afford the money.”
It costs the state about $100 million a year to administer the Earned Income Tax Credit program.
McKinney said he’s concerned about it because Connecticut’s program piggybacks on the federal government, and there have been inspector general reports that there is fraud in that system.
“That means people are getting it that shouldn’t be,” McKinney said.
Asked if he would keep the Earned Income Tax Credit in his budget, McKinney said, “I think we’re going to have to talk about that. I think at 30 percent piggybacking off the federal government, no.”
“Could there be one at a lower number that the state could control to make sure there’s no fraud in the system? Sure,” he added.
On economic development?
McKinney said he would eliminate the “First Five” program, which he voted in favor of during a special session in 2011. The program allows the governor to structure 15 economic development deals with businesses in exchange for job creation.
“Should we spend money fixing roads and bridges or should we spend $100 million giving it to the world’s richest hedge fund?” McKinney said. “Who here thinks that’s a smart decision?”
But he’s not opposed to helping small business through smaller loans under what’s known as the Small Business Express Program. And he’s not opposed to the digital media tax credits that are “helping create jobs.”
“What I’ve said is that when you’re going to face a budget deficit and one of the alternatives has been raising taxes on hardworking people — every dollar you spend and every tax break you give needs to be examined,” McKinney said.