On Wednesday, Gov. Dannel Malloy delivered his State of the State address, reflecting on Connecticut’s values and providing a recap of his accomplishments over his seven years in office. But what Malloy largely set aside in his speech were the fiscal issues the state has faced during his tenure — issues that will likely play a major role in shaping how future generations view his two terms in office.
As Malloy’s second and final term as governor draws to a close, politicians and pundits have begun speculating about his legacy.
Fiscally, Malloy’s time in office has been turbulent. Under his watch, the government went without a budget for 123 days and taxes increased on three separate occasions. According to recent polling, Malloy’s approval rating stands at 24 percent, the lowest of any sitting governor in the nation.
But Colin McEnroe ’76, a left-leaning radio host who holds a weekly political roundtable on Connecticut politics, said that Malloy did not create this situation; he inherited it from his predecessor. Although he could have dealt with fiscal issues better, said McEnroe, who is teaching a political journalism course at Yale this semester, the governor should not shoulder the blame entirely.
“I put the failure much more at [the legislature’s] feet,” McEnroe said.
He likened Malloy to the kid on the middle of the floor at a high school dance — he may be dancing poorly, but at least he is trying. State legislators, according to McEnroe’s analogy, are the kids off to the side, making fun of Malloy while doing nothing themselves. In other words, the governor may have proposed bad legislation, but at least he proposed something, McEnroe said.
Roy Occhiogrosso, who helped run a number of Malloy’s campaigns and served as chief strategist during his first term, believes Malloy did the best he could faced with an already difficult situation.
“He inherited an enormous mess, and rather than running away from it, he has tried to deal with it in an upfront and forthright manner,” Occhiogrosso said.
Jason Novak, Malloy’s deputy press secretary, attributed the state’s financial crisis to decades of pension underfunding and non-investment. In fact, Novak said, Malloy has improved the state’s long-term financial outlook.
As evidence of the fiscal crisis foisted upon Malloy, Occhiogrosso pointed to the $1.3 billion shortfall in the 2011 state budget, which was drafted the year before Malloy was elected governor, and the $1.6 billion Malloy had to pay as a result of his predecessor’s borrowing.
Malloy has come under intense criticism for his economic policies. In 2016, a string of companies made public their intentions to leave Connecticut. These companies, which include General Electric, Aetna and Alexion Pharmaceuticals, all announced plans to move to other major cities in the Northeast. CVS Pharmacy, which purchased Aetna in December, announced last month it was scrapping plans to move the companies’ headquarters from Hartford to New York City.
Chris Powell, a Republican columnist and former managing editor of Manchester’s Journal Inquirer, sees these moves as a result of the high corporate tax rates during Malloy’s tenure.
“These companies believe that business has no future in Connecticut except to be hit up again and again for more taxes,” he said.
McEnroe, on the other hand, said Malloy has borne undue blame for an exodus of businesses that would have taken place no matter who was leading the state. Novak pointed to a lack of Republican cooperation on budgetary matters and sparse investments in infrastructure by Republicans in the past as alternative reasons for the business relocations.
Malloy has also been ostracized, particularly by Republicans, for raising taxes to counteract the government’s fiscal crisis, and his newly proposed budget has been criticized as a continuation of this trend.
“He is going back to what he has always said: ‘Let’s tax more!’” said state Sen. Len Fasano ’81, R-North Haven, in a statement responding to the proposed budget. “His proposal would move Connecticut backwards.”
At least in the eyes of Democrats, Malloy’s legacy still has redeeming elements. McEnroe praised a number of the governor’s accomplishments, including his recruitment of the Jackson Laboratory to Farmington, moves to decriminalize certain aspects of marijuana use, the abolition of the death penalty, and stricter gun control legislation. Powell agreed that the decriminalization of drugs will reflect positively on Malloy, and Occhiogrosso was adamant about Malloy’s progressive record on a number of social issues such as rights for the LGBTQ community and immigrants.
In his Wednesday State of the State address, Malloy focused on “Connecticut Fairness,” touching on topics like health care, the minimum wage, equal pay and gun control. But with the legislature heading into its last session under Malloy, Powell expressed doubt about how much of that agenda Malloy will have the chance to enact before his tenure is up.
“I don’t see how much he articulated in the speech can be accomplished given Connecticut’s financial circumstances,” Powell said.
Malloy is 62 years old.
Conor Johnson | firstname.lastname@example.org