Gov. Dannel P. Malloy won’t be defending his budget this year at any town hall meetings or community forums.
“I don’t think this budget is as groundbreaking as others,” Malloy said Wednesday at an event in Windsor. “We’re not calling for raising new taxes or rates. I think this is a budget that is representative of a level of stability, not total stability, but a level of stability.”
During his first four years in office, Malloy held town halls or community forums where the public could come ask questions and express their opinions on the budget, his education reform package, and other items that were part of his policy agenda.
In 2011, he held an unprecedented 17 town hall forums. In 2012, he held five community forums on his education reform agenda, which were attended by hundreds of teachers and parents. In 2013 and 2014, he held a handful of community forums, which were described as “town hall-style events” in press releases. They were billed as “an opportunity to discuss the state’s pressing issues face-to-face with state residents.”
This year is different. It’s a start of a second term for Malloy, but when it comes to the state’s fiscal condition there’s not much to defend. It’s a year in which revenue is again underperforming and the state is still running a deficit. The budget he submitted to the General Assembly on Feb. 18 boosts tax revenue by $900 million, cuts $1.3 billion in spending, and included a $54 million error, which he will let the legislature fix.
“What we’re doing is a lot of meetings on transportation,” Malloy said Wednesday. “A lot of these have been with business leaders, with community leaders in the communities that we’ve gone to. I think we’ve done three maybe four roundtables already, so I think that’s where we’re spending a lot of our time and energy.”
But the roundtables where guests are invited by the administration are different than the unpredictable town hall forums where members of the public showed up and asked a question. The forums, held in various parts of the state, traditionally started with Malloy giving a summary of his budget or policy proposal and then taking questions from the audience. Usually, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman would hold the microphone and act as an arbitrator if things got tense between the questioner and Malloy.
Malloy also pointed out that no one has called on him to have town hall meetings or community forums.
Is it that he just doesn’t like his budget?
“No, I like my budget,” Malloy said. “I don’t think this budget is as groundbreaking as others.”
Republican lawmakers like Senate Republican leader Len Fasano agreed.
“A groundbreaking approach would be to stop telling the Democrat treasurer that she is wrong and the Democrat comptroller that he is wrong when they offer budget critiques,” Fasano said in a statement. “A groundbreaking approach would be to submit a budget that is under the state’s constitutional spending cap. A groundbreaking approach would not anticipate a whopping 25 percent increase in revenue.”
Malloy’s budget director Benjamin Barnes told the legislature at the end of February that a calculation error in the governor’s budget proposal means the 2016 budget is $54 million over the constitutional spending cap. And despite an apology, Barnes and Malloy have told lawmakers they won’t submit a revised version. That means the legislature will have to find an additional $54 million in spending cuts.
House Republican leader Themis Klarides said it’s clear that Malloy “has given up all control of the budget to the legislature.”
Klarides said it’s as if he threw together a budget, knew it had mistakes, and then jetted off to some Democratic governors’ event outside of Connecticut.
“He’s checked out,” Klarides said.
Fasano said Malloy should stop calling Republicans “frauds” and sit down and work with them to fix the problem.
Malloy, who will take over as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association next year, told the Washington Post last week that “Democrats make a tremendous mistake in thinking about elections as cycles. They’re not. This is a constant campaign. We have to do a better job of speaking to working men and working women. We have to expose Republicans for the frauds that they are when it comes to what they want to do for working men and women.”