Josalee Thrift / ctnewsjunkie
Malloy’s desk on his first day in office (Josalee Thrift / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — Paid sick leave, an increased minimum wage, criminal justice system reforms, tougher gun safety laws, and abolition of the death penalty are just a few of the accomplishments that will be part of Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s legacy.

Described by some as a “corporate Democrat,” Malloy — who announced his intention not to seek a third term at a Capitol press conference on Thursday — is quick to tout his support for paid sick leave and being the first governor in the nation to sign a $10.10 per hour minimum wage into law.

He also signed legislation abolishing the death penalty after it had been vetoed by his Republican predecessor, former Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

In his announcement Thursday, Malloy also highlighted controversial changes he made to the state’s education system in 2012, causing him to quickly fall out of favor with Connecticut’s public teacher unions. A thousand teachers that year rallied at the state Capitol against the governor’s proposal.

But Malloy, who grew up with a learning disability, wasn’t going to give up. He didn’t get everything he wanted in the final package, but he got enough to make a difference.

“Today our students are some of the best readers in the country, and our graduation rates are now at their highest point in Connecticut’s history,” Malloy said Thursday.

While education reform has not been easy and has proven to be a continuing challenge with respect to efforts to reach statewide equity in education funding, the governor faced his hardest day on Dec. 14, 2012, when 20 children and six educators were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. In the months following, Malloy and General Assembly, on a bipartisan basis, were able to pass some of the toughest gun safety laws in the nation.

Aside from firearms, criminal justice reforms also have been a centerpiece of the Malloy agenda — partly because of racial disparities in criminal justice policy outcomes, and also partly based on budgetary reasons.

According to the FBI, reported crime in Connecticut is now at its lowest level since 1967. And today, the state’s total inmate population is approximately 14,560, down from a peak of 19,894 in 2008.

So it’s clear that Malloy and his administration have made significant progress in criminal justice reform — which he has dubbed his “Second Chance” agenda. After getting lawmakers in 2015 to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offenses and to eliminate the additional penalty for drug possession around schools, Malloy’s second proposal to allow individuals up to the age of 21 to be treated as juveniles in the court system died last week in committee. There’s a fiscal note attached, so there’s a possibility it could be revived as part of other legislation, but it’s still a long shot.

And this is frustrating for Malloy — that opponents don’t understand or won’t accept research showing that the human brain doesn’t reach full development until the age of 25.

A student of public policy, Malloy prides himself in being ahead of the curve on social justice and human rights issues.

And as a former prosecutor, Malloy has continued throughout his tenure as governor to be a champion for individuals and groups who lacked political power, particularly at times when it wasn’t the popular thing to do.

He received the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for inviting a Syrian family to live in Connecticut in 2015 after they were turned away by then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence following a terrorist attack in France. He also stuck up for the LGBTQ community and signed executive orders banning state travel to places with laws that are deemed to be discriminatory or which otherwise make members of the LBGTQ community less safe.

The Malloy administration described itself — with respect to its personnel choices — as the “gayest administration ever” in a Connecticut Post series about the first year of the administration.

Malloy was also the governor who decided that it was no longer acceptable to discriminate against gender identity or expression.

“It’s difficult enough for people who are grappling with the issue of their gender identity, and discrimination against them has no place in our society,” Malloy said in 2011. “Connecticut has led the way in other civil rights issues and I’m proud to be able to support and sign this bill.”

So while Malloy had been successful in pursuing much of his agenda, Connecticut’s economic recovery has continued to be an insurmountable challenge. Administration officials have said privately that based on historical economic data they expected that the economy would have rebounded, but it has not.

The slow recovery and the failure of previous administrations and legislatures to pay into the state employee pension fund have created a budget chasm that has thus far been too deep from which to escape. To his credit, Malloy has committed to spending at least enough not to fall behind further on the state’s pension obligations. But analysts say the decline in the finance and manufacturing sectors, as well as population losses, have placed downward pressure on economic growth in Connecticut, creating a longer than expected period of slow growth. This culminated in 2016 with private-sector job growth grounding nearly to a halt.

Rewind to 2011. Declaring that he was unafraid of being a one-term governor, Malloy did what he could to convince the legislature and state employee unions that a little “shared sacrifice” and restructuring in the early days would help turn the ship around for the future. However, despite the effort to make a large budget correction, the red ink continued to pile up and the “new normal” of a stubborn, lagging economy set in less than a month after Malloy’s re-election to a second term.

After promising not to raise taxes on the campaign trail in 2014, Malloy was forced to raise taxes less than a year later to balance the budget.

The fallout? General Electric — one of the nation’s oldest companies with a big public profile — cited the tax increases as one of the reasons it packed up and left for Boston. The state of Massachusetts and the city of Boston also provided the company with an incentive — $164 million dollars to move 200 jobs to Boston from Fairfield. Malloy said at the time that the taxpayers of Connecticut would not have allowed him to offer that kind of money — $820,000 per job — to keep GE in Connecticut.

Lesson learned, Malloy and a bigger Democratic majority in the General Assembly approved a budget in 2016 that didn’t increase taxes and cut more than $850 million in spending.

But that budget had traditional Democratic supporters like the labor unions boycotting party fundraisers and working hard to support candidates who opposed what they deemed to be an “austerity” budget.

The result? Republicans picked up eight seats in the House and three in the state Senate in the 2016 election, capturing an equal share of Senate seats at 18 each. The Republicans last held a state Senate majority, at 19-17, in 1995-96. The last time the Senate stood in a tie was 1893, when both parties held 12 seats in the 24-member chamber.

So while Malloy won’t be seeking re-election, whatever happens with this year’s budget could have a big impact on the 2018 election.

The Republican Party is already lining up to blame Democrats in the General Assembly for “rubber stamping” Malloy’s agenda. Meanwhile, one of the state’s top-ranking Democrats, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz of Berlin, is asking his colleagues not to be thinking about 2018.

“The last thing we should be thinking about is 2018,” Aresimowicz said. “We should be thinking about Connecticut and how we’re going to move it forward.”

Meanwhile, Malloy still has 20 months as governor and the 2018 budget — which, for the first time in his administration attempts to reduce municipal aid — is a work in progress with an estimated deficit of $1.7 billion. Thirty percent of the $18.9 billion budget for 2018 is fixed costs, and the governor has proposed moving $400 million in teacher pension payments over to the state’s 169 municipalities, which are primarily funded by property taxes. His 2018 budget also would discontinue tax credits worth $200 million.

Malloy said he is currently negotiating with the state’s labor unions for another $700 million in savings for 2018. Without those savings, and regardless of the proposed change to the teacher pension funding, Malloy said he’ll need to lay off another 4,200 state workers.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the government sector in Connecticut has lost 21,900 jobs since its peak in 2008 — that includes local, state, federal, and tribal employees.