There is a lot of pessimism in Connecticut these days, but very little of it seems to have bled through to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
CTNewsJunkie’s editorial board met with Malloy last Friday. The hour-long, wide-ranging conversation gave us insight into the governor’s plans and thought processes. The picture that emerged was of a governor often frustrated with his own party in the legislature and the slowness of our economic recovery, but who also was confident in the eventual success of his programs and administration.
Malloy began by explaining his plan for pensions, which led into a more general discussion of the budget. I asked about the constant cycle of budget crises, and he said, “No, we’ve been in one long cycle [of budget crisis] . . . We’re reflective of the national economy.” He repeatedly pointed out that 27 states had yet to return to pre-recession employment and revenue levels, and those that did disproportionately had natural resources to exploit, like North Dakota.
So can we get out of this cycle? Malloy suggested that they’ve been using a flawed model for revenue collection based on other post-WWII recovery cycles, meaning “we keep missing those [revenue] targets.”
Hovering over discussions of the budget are labor negotiations with state employees due next year. Malloy emphasized that the salary negotiations would be “tough.” He said, “Our expectations, the taxpayers’ ability to pay, and the workers ability to receive, have to be adjusted.” The negotiations wouldn’t just focus on salary, but on work rules and more. He also believes that the entire legislature should vote on any labor contracts instead of just the Appropriations Committee, which is how things are now.
Malloy made sure to point out the progress his administration has made in containing costs, saying that there are fewer state employees now than under the Rell or Rowland administrations, and that “I’m the governor who has closed two jails while crime has dropped precipitously.”
He’s also the governor who will, if all goes well, close the long-troubled Connecticut Juvenile Training School for boys in Middletown, along with the Pueblo unit that was recently built for girls. “Finding the right solution that includes the appropriate level of saving is not going to be easy,” the governor said, noting that he was against job guarantees for workers at the facility. He envisions smaller, more community-based settings dependent on the individual situation of each child.
But Malloy defended the embattled Department of Children and Families and its oft-criticized commissioner, Joette Katz.
“I don’t think they get credit for what they’ve done,” he said, noting that tapes of abuses at CTJS and Pueblo only existed because of recent reforms. Katz is “tough as nails but she’s damn good,” according to Malloy, and he praised her efforts to change the culture of the agency and bring it in alignment with national standards.
The conversation shifted to current efforts to place a satellite casino in northern Connecticut.
“I don’t think any community that doesn’t want a casino should have a casino,” he said, while pointing out the need for Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, as high-profile Connecticut employers, to be competitive with the MGM casino being built in Springfield.
On transportation, the governor is enthusiastic about current and future projects. He sees the success of CT Fastrak as a vindication of his decision to stick by the project, and talked about expanding the popular service east of the river, out to Storrs, and north of Hartford by using the existing and underutilized HOV lanes. He sees bus service in general growing “by a minimum of 40 percent” with new routes and new technology added. He’s looking to reduce commute times on Metro-North by bringing four rails into service, two for local and two for express.
How do we pay for that? Malloy will go back to the legislature with a slightly different amendment for a constitutional transportation funding “lockbox.” He’s also open to raising revenue for transportation in different ways: “We’re going to need to raise more revenue, not because we want to spend more money, but because fewer cars are using gas, and cars are going substantially further on a gallon of gas than they used to.”
As for his future plans, Malloy is confident that he can lead the Democratic Governors’ Association next year and not leave Connecticut shorted. “I don’t think anyone questions my work ethic,” he said. And when 2018 rolls around, he may decide to run for a third term, depending on the situation.
That may leave a lot of people scratching their heads, but nobody gave Malloy a chance in 2014, either. Who knows? For Gov. Malloy, at least, the future seems bright.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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