Two days after announcing a detailed budget proposal to reduce long-term deficits, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy delivered his final State of the State Address to the General Assembly on Wednesday, the first day of this year’s legislative session. But rather than focusing on the state’s economy, Malloy called for a progressive social environment in Connecticut.
Making only a passing reference to the state’s budget, Malloy proposed a wide array of policies to fulfill his vision of “Connecticut fairness,” calling on the General Assembly to offer a “beacon of hope” even in the face of an adversarial national environment. With a pink ribbon on his lapel in support of the #MeToo movement, Malloy expressed his support for anti-harassment policies, a statewide individual mandate, equal pay laws, new fuel emission standards, a higher minimum wage, a ban on firearms with bump stocks and a constitutional amendment to expand access to early voting.
“This year, I urge you to consider Connecticut’s rich tradition of fairness in the context of a national and global landscape that is changing by the hour, leaving many of our constituents feeling anxious about their future and about the future of their state and nation,” Malloy said in the address.
Malloy broke from tradition this year by unveiling his budget in advance of the annual address, bypassing many of the budgetary issues in his annual message. Released Monday, the proposal seeks to use spending cuts and tax increases to cut about half the state’s deficit, which is projected to reach more than $3 billion by 2022. It also suggests allowing municipalities to collect taxes as charitable contributions, shielding Connecticut residents from the loss of deductions caused by the recent federal tax reform.
Although New Haven would be largely unaffected, the budget plan cuts funding to most local governments, with wealthier communities shouldering the bulk of the burden. All told, 33 towns will see their education funding — which makes up most of the direct state aid to local governments — cut to zero. While keeping the state’s income tax and sales tax rates constant, the budget will levy higher taxes on cigarettes and alcohol. Malloy also proposed eliminating many exemptions and tax credits.
Republicans quickly seized on Malloy’s unorthodox practice to highlight his economic record. In an interview with the News, Senate President Pro Tempore Len Fasano ’81, R-North Haven, said Malloy skirted the topic because he knew it has been a “failure” under his watch. Fasano called the speech “politically divisive” and that it lacked substantive policy details.
“To me he didn’t say anything worth commenting on. There’s no substance,” Fasano said. “He’d rather be a political poet than actually a hard-working, number-crunching governor.”
Fasano called the governor’s budget contradictory to his rhetoric of “fairness,” as it “taxes low income families more, cuts services and health care support for the elderly and disabled and adds more burdens onto residents and job creators.” He noted there are better ways to achieve savings, such as the Malloy administration’s extravagant bonding expenditure and the Five Jobs Initiative — which gives tax credits to businesses for job creation — that fell short of expectations. Fasano also took issue with the idea of collecting local taxes as charitable contributions, saying the Internal Revenue Service is likely to treat it as tax evasion, leading it to target individual taxpayers.
Democrats gave the address much higher marks. House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, dismissed the idea that the speech drove a wedge between the two parties, noting that Republicans in Connecticut are much more moderate than their counterparts in the federal government.
“I think this is a superb speech that reflects the true values of Connecticut,” Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven, told reporters after the speech. “It reminds us of the true values on which he first ran [for governor].”
Democrats expressed optimism about the governor’s agenda. Aresimowicz said that a number of proposals, such as the pay equity law for women, garnered significant support among Republicans. The budgeting process, he predicted, will be more challenging, and some of the governor’s ideas are not likely to pass the legislature.
Last year’s budgeting process saw the largest fiscal standoff in state history, leaving the state without a budget for 123 days. The final bipartisan budget largely excluded Malloy and had enough support to override his veto.
For this year’s budgeting process, lawmakers will revise the second half of the two-year budget that was passed last year.
Malloy’s budget generated mixed reactions from local officials. New Haven Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson SOM ’81 said the renewed focus on transportation infrastructure will benefit New Haven, a city that straddles major highways and a deep-water port. He also noted that Connecticut cities like New Haven have higher local tax rates than more affluent suburbs due to their limited tax base. The budget, which keeps funding to major cities constant, will help to level the differences.
Fairfield First Selectman Mike Tetreau said he objected to the proposed budget because it would cut state funding to Fairfield by 72 percent, a greater percentage than any of the dozens of towns with higher median incomes than Fairfield would see. Tetreau noted that under the proposal, the state would contribute no education funding to Fairfield. There is little transparency in the budget breakdown, he said, which gives Fairfield a deeper cut than neighboring towns with higher incomes like Greenwich and Darien.
“There is a lot of confusion and frustration in the towns, and no one understands why it is so unfair,” Tetreau said.
The General Assembly will adjourn for this year’s session on May 9.
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