As Connecticut’s gubernatorial race intensifies, Gov. Dannel Malloy faces an uphill battle against what Republicans are calling their strongest message in years: that the governor’s large tax hikes have hurt the economy.

Malloy, who raised taxes by $1.5 billion during his first year as governor in the face of a $3.6 billion deficit, trails Republican challenger Tom Foley in a race centered on the economy, according to recent polls. Though according to The Wall Street Journal, Connecticut has regained around 77 percent of the private sector jobs it lost during the recession, Malloy consistently gets unfavorable ratings on economic issues.

Republican state Sen. John McKinney, who ran against Foley in the Republican primary, said that gives Republicans an advantage.

“I think you’re going to see Republican candidates in the state run on a very unified message,” McKinney said. “Clearly the most important one is that Dan Malloy and the Democrats in the legislature passed the largest tax increase in history. If people are dissatisfied with where we are, there’s really only one party to hold accountable for that.”

Last week, an anti-Malloy super PAC called “Grow Connecticut” released an ad attacking the governor’s tax policies.

But New Haven Alder Dolores Colon said tax raises were necessary to pay for essential services like education, fire departments and infrastructure.

“Things cost money,” Colon said. “The only way you’re going to avoid paying taxes is if you’re in the grave. And I don’t want that alternative for anybody.”

Colon said the governor’s economic polices have helped New Haven, citing his work with small businesses and investment in the city. Earlier this year, Malloy teamed up with Mayor Toni Harp to announce that the state would give New Haven $1 million to erect a new “Q” House, a community center that had been bought by the city two years ago under threat of foreclosure.

Not everyone agrees. Richter Elser, chair of the New Haven Republican Town Committee, said Malloy’s tax increases presented a threat to New Haven.

“The more the governor does to make Connecticut a less friendly state for business development ultimately hurts its urban areas, whether in New Haven or any other city,” Elser said. “Governor Malloy’s current tax policy is enough to make voters wonder, ‘Would it be better to support a new guy?’”

Elser, who called the Q House funding an “election year ploy,” questioned why businesses would move to Connecticut if New York had better economic incentives.

Connecticut has experienced lower growth rates than its neighbors, although according to Steve Lanza, a University of Connecticut professor of economics, Connecticut has been historically slower to recover from downturns.

Lanza said Malloy found himself in a Catch-22 situation.

“If you don’t raise taxes, you’re going to have to cut public services and that will have real consequences on the economy,” Lanza said. “If you raise taxes, then you’re taking money out of the pockets of tax payers.”

Lanza said the current surplus in Connecticut was a sign of economic improvement, in contrast with McKinney, who said frustration with the state’s economic direction will impact all races on this year’s ballot.

Fred Carstensen, another University of Connecticut economics professor, argued that if Foley was elected in 2010 rather than Malloy, the economy would have been much worse off. In that campaign, according to Carstensen, Foley said he would only cut the budget.

“Foley would have given us the worst recession since World War II on the basis of what he said during the campaign,” Carstensen said. “There was no way that you could get out of the recession in Connecticut without raising taxes.”

Carstensen said Malloy has worked to preserve municipal grants and argued that Connecticut does not have as high of taxes as some, and said the state has the second lowest business taxes in the country. He also attributed rapid job growth in New York and Massachusetts to investment in infrastructure, and said cutting taxes to solve economic development problems in Connecticut was “absolute nonsense.”

Foley leads Malloy by six points according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday.