Christine Stuart photo

A new coalition of labor, community and civil rights groups said they don’t accept the premise of the new economic reality Gov. Dannel P. Malloy laid out in his State of the State address one week ago.

The Coalition for Democracy, Unity, and Equality said Wednesday that it has 300,000 members and will be pushing a legislative agenda that includes paid family leave, a fee for large corporations that don’t pay their employees $15 an hour, higher corporate taxes, a soda tax, more affordable housing, and expansion of collective bargaining rights.

“There are unmet needs in this state and we are coming together to challenge some of the forces we believe create some of those unmet needs,” Ann Pratt, an organizer with the Connecticut Citizens Action Group, said at a Legislative Office Building press conference. “Those are the forces that drive our resources into the tiniest hands of the wealthiest and then those wealthy do what they can to ensure they don’t pay their fair share in taxes.”

Lori Pelletier, president of the AFL-CIO, said people are tired of the fact that they work hard and at the end of the day they’re still trying to make ends meet.

“For the last 30 years workers wages have been stagnant,” Pelletier said.

But if you add to that an increase in the cost of living, then workers are earning less than they did 30 years ago, Pelletier posited.

“That’s the problem with the economy,” Pelletier said. “In a capitalist society, the economy grows by people spending money, but if you don’t have money to spend the worst thing you can do is turn around and perpatrate a lie that says ‘Oh, we can give tax breaks to the very wealthy’,” Pelletier said.

She said the budget Malloy released last week that cuts nearly $570 million and calls for the elimination of at least 1,000 state employees “is not a budget for Connecticut families.” She said it’s a budget that “protects the very wealthy.”

However, Malloy disagreed.

Christine Stuart photo

After a wide-ranging discussion about the direction of the state at Bart’s Drive In in Windsor, Malloy said this isn’t the fault of state employees, but “there is a certain economic reality.”

“The economy is not growing at a rate in which we’ve become accustomed in the United States,” Malloy said.

He said he heard some economists predict that economic growth this year would be around 1 percent.

He said he thinks his budget tries to strike the right balance because “you just can’t go back to the well year after year after year.”

“We’ve got to cut from somewhere and make some amount of reductions because our income has declined,” Malloy said. “So it’s not a question of spending the amount of money we want to spend, we can only spend the amount of money we have.”

Malloy signed into law the two biggest tax increases in the state’s history over the past five years. This year, his budget included no new tax increases.

A coalition of nine business organizations and chambers of commerce gathered Tuesday at the Legislative Office Building and largely praised the budget Malloy introduced last week. They urged lawmakers to approve a constitutional spending cap and a lockbox for transportation funding.

Joseph Brennan, president and CEO of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said he told the governor that it would be hard for them to go back to their members and ask them to support a lockbox if there was a tax increase in the budget.

R. Nelson ‘Oz’ Griebel, president and CEO of the MetroHartford Alliance, said that “spending discipline” is at the heart of the business communities agenda and that’s what’s going to instill confidence.

“Showing spending discipline on the state side will engender that kind of confidence,” Griebel said. “People will keep the jobs they have here. They will increase the jobs. They will invest in the state. That will ultimately generate the tax revenues that will allow us to invest in transportation and education.”

In the meantime, state employees are worried they will lose their jobs.

Pelletier said the state workforce is an easy target, but she thinks it’s a “grave mistake.” She said over the past four years state employees have increased their contributions to their pensions and to their health benefits at the same time their wages have remained flat.

She said laying off state employees is going to take money out of the local economy because those workers will have less money to spend.

Malloy’s office is currently in negotiations with all but one of the 13 state employee bargaining units regarding their wages and working conditions. The health and pension package they receive as part of their contract doesn’t expire until 2022, but the governor and some lawmakers believe it’s time to reopen it.

“Let’s acknowledge that we should not wait until 2022 to have necessary discussions between labor and management,” Malloy said last week during his speech. “Together, with our partners in labor, we can address how we pay for our long-term obligations and keep the pension and benefit system aligned with our economic reality.”

Pelletier said state employees have given enough and reopening that part of the contract is a “non-starter.” She said it’s time to ask those who can afford it to pay their fair share.

The coalition said it will hold an event on April 4 that will ask lawmakers where they stand on these issues. That’s a month before the end of the legislative session, which means the deadline for all legislative committees will have expired.

In the meantime, Pelletier said they will work on their agenda prior to the April 4 meeting to hold political leaders accountable.