In the final televised debate before Tuesday’s election, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Republican challenger Tom Foley sparred over tax breaks for senior citizens and retired teachers. They also talked about where their boats got their names.
In a wide-ranging debate hosted by WTNH, the two major-party candidates who are running against each for the second time in four years, squabbled over each other’s positions on issues and attacked each other’s character in order to win over undecided voters.
Foley said he would eliminate the state income tax on Social Security benefits and teachers pensions if he’s elected governor.
“I’d like to ask the governor if he will commit to do that same thing this morning?” Foley said.
“Tom, I’ve already taken steps to do it,” Malloy replied.
Foley continued to interrupt Malloy as he tried to answer.
“Tom, let’s be a gentleman,” Malloy said.
“Sounds like a ‘no’ governor,” Foley said.
“Let’s try to contain ourselves,” Malloy told Foley. “Why don’t you tell the people watching today that I’m the person who proposed those things.”
Malloy did propose reducing the income tax on teacher pensions as part of the 2015 budget. His proposal included a10 percent exemption, which increases to 25 percent in 2016 and peaks at 50 percent in 2017. Malloy said he signed legislation creating a panel to study the state tax system, including income taxes on Social Security recipients. Foley criticized him for not doing enough for seniors.
Malloy said Foley criticized him for reducing the state income tax on teacher pensions as “a political move and now you’re sitting 48 hours before an election and you’re behind in the polls and you’re throwing everything you can at the situation.”
“I’m agreeing that we need to change our tax system,” Malloy said. “That it is too punishing on middle class and lower income earners, including our seniors.”
He said Foley is pretending that he didn’t propose the exact tax treatment of senior citizens and teachers that Foley was talking about.
Foley said he first made the proposal about three or four weeks ago. It’s mentioned in one of his radio ads, but there’s been no attempt to get any media coverage of it until now.
How much would it cost the state?
Eliminating the income tax on Social Security and teacher pensions would cost the state $40 million in revenue, Foley said after the debate.
That’s on top of the $30 million he would reimburse some municipalities for eliminating the property tax on motor vehicles and $300 million for the half-percent sales tax cut he plans to implement. In addition, Foley said he would eliminate the $250 Business Entity Tax, which would cost the state more than $30 million in revenue. In total, that’s about $400 million Foley would need to find in a budget that’s running a $1.278 billion deficit.
One of the viewers asked how he would make up for that revenue. In other words, where would he cut spending.
Foley said he would hold spending flat for two years. During that time he believes revenues from economic growth will catch up. He said he also won’t be doling out an “corporate welfare,” which Malloy has done through bonding at a time when interest rates have been low.
Foley said he also believes he’ll be able to sit down all the healthcare providers in the state and negotiate a better rate for medical procedures.
Malloy said as the economy bounces back his administration has begun to roll back some of the tax increases it implemented in 2011 when they faced a $3.67 billion deficit.
“Growth in the economy makes a real difference,” Malloy said.
But perhaps the most interesting question of the debate came from a viewer named Charles, who wanted to know about where the two men came up with the names of their boats.
Malloy had a boat named “Sapphire” and Foley’s boat is named “Odalisque.”
Malloy said he no longer owns the boat, but the boat was named “Sapphire” when he bought it.
“It cost money to change the name. You have to scrape the stuff off and I wasn’t about to do that,” Malloy said. “. . . if I had a boat named after a sex slave I would have changed the name.”
Foley joked that Malloy is obviously not going for the “boat owners’ vote.”
“I’m certainly not going for the sex slave vote,” Malloy countered.
Foley said the name of his boat is rooted in a series of paintings done by post-Impressionist artist Henri Matisse.
“Odalisque is a . . . I’m a great enjoyer of arts and culture and Odalisque are the names of many great paintings,” Foley said.
He mentioned the Grande Odalisque by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and other paintings of partially nude women by Matisse.
Foley said Odalisque “really means a beautiful woman, a beautiful thing in the art world. It doesn’t mean a sex slave.”
But Malloy wasn’t going to let the question go.
“You have a daughter,” Malloy told Foley. “Do you think it’s appropriate to have a boat named after a sex slave?”
Foley replied: “Do I think it’s appropriate to have a boat named after something that an artist like Matisse admired greatly and created the image of? Yes, absolutely.”
WTNH Political Reporter Mark Davis said the question highlighted the difference between the two candidates.
“You see that term meaning something artsy and you see it meaning something else,” Davis said. “You see the state in trouble and you think it’s going well.”
Susan Haigh of the Associated Press pointed out that public polls show voters don’t have a very flattering view of either Malloy or Foley and offered them a chance to tell viewers something about themselves that’s not widely known.
“I love moving through three dimensional space,” Foley said. “Ever since I was a young child I dreamed about flying and moving through three dimensional space.”
Foley has a pilots license and also likes to ride motorcycles. Essentially, he is a thrill seeker.
Malloy used the question to remind viewers that he grew up with severe learning disabilities and in overcoming those disabilities he developed some sharp elbows, which sometimes rub people the wrong way.
“I couldn’t button a shirt or tie a shoe until I was in fifth-grade maybe that explains some of the edges around my personality,” Malloy said. “It was tough growing up that way.”
He said he thinks sometimes people relate things to his personality that really relate to the set of disabilities he was born with and were hard to overcome.