It was Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s sixth town hall meeting this year and what could have been a hostile crowd in Enfield, which is home to three prisons and a large number of state employees, turned out to be a fairly quiet evening.
Malloy fielded two questions by state employees about the need for layoffs and changes to the pension plan, but most of the residents from north central Connecticut who attended the event at Asnuntuck Community College were more interested in what the governor plans to do about insurers’ refusals to cover the replacement of their crumbling foundations.
Walter Zalewa of Willington, who is part of the Connecticut Coalition Against Crumbling Basements, asked Malloy what he’s been doing to offer homeowners assistance.
The group has been critical about the lack of assistance provided by the state.
Malloy said he’s put Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris in charge of handling the issue, but he’s also been talking to insurance companies in the state and hopes they will step up and cover the replacement.
Malloy said in order to get insurance companies to cooperate, he needs to know the extent of the problem. Right now, it’s unclear how many homeowners may have had their foundations poured by J.J. Mottes — the Stafford concrete company at the center of the complaints. Malloy encouraged homeowners to register with the Department of Consumer Protection so the state can get a handle on the size of the problem.
As of February, 114 people had registered their foundations with the department.
“If people don’t come forward, it’s going to be difficult to move the ball forward,” Malloy said.
Last week, Malloy said he received a letter from lawmakers suggesting the state reach out to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to see if there’s any federal assistance available. Malloy said his legal team has been in contact with FEMA and is exploring every opportunity.
But Malloy, a former prosecutor, said the law is currently not on the side of the claimants. He said that’s why he’s trying to get insurance companies to the table to see if they can give people a certain level of relief.
But in order to do that he needs people to come forward, but many are hesitant to do so.
“People gotta understand they have to help, that I can’t do this myself,” Malloy stressed.
Attorney General George Jepsen has teamed with the Department of Consumer Protection and is conducting an investigation into the crumbling concrete issue, which is expected to be completed this Spring.
State Employee Layoffs
At least two state employees questioned Malloy about the need to lay off state employees and change the health and pension contract, which doesn’t expire until 2022.
“I hear ya,” Malloy told Marie DeSouza of Enfield. “Nobody wants a layoff. I don’t want layoffs.”
But Malloy told DeSouza there’s a revenue problem and revenue is coming in at a lower rate.
Malloy reiterated that state employees didn’t cause the problem. However, he can’t ask Connecticut taxpayers for more money.
He said Connecticut is at a point where raising taxes would put it at a competitive disadvantage.
“We’ve got to find another way to balance the budget,” Malloy said.
One state employee suggested giving workers an opportunity to volunteer earned compensation time back to the state to help save money.
“The size of the problem is $900 million,” Malloy said. “We’re not going to do that with volunteer hours.”
Malloy went onto explain that it’s not just a short-term problem, but a long-term problem.
“The business community has spoken loud and clear that we need to resolve our unfunded obligations,” Malloy said referring to the state employees’ pension plan.
Labor has complained that the state should be increasing taxes on the wealthy, instead of asking middle class state workers for more concessions, just five years after they gave up $1.6 billion in health and pension benefits.