Thursday, June 9, 2011
By Mary E. O’Leary, Topics Editor
email@example.com / Twitter: @nhrmoleary
HARTFORD — Five months after taking office and facing a record budget deficit, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has in record time put in place his vision for the state, one he says lays the foundation for job creation and stabilizes its rocky finances.
The General Assembly, which came into session Jan. 5, adjourned at midnight Wednesday and was addressed by Malloy.
Malloy balanced his $40.1 billion biennial budget with a $2.6 billion tax increase, some $800,000 in program cuts and a negotiated $1.6 billion in savings and concessions with state workers, yet to be ratified.
The final gap in the budget, adopted earlier this month and finalized in bills this week, was closed with more than $300 million from a 2-year, $1 billion surplus fed by unexpected revenue increases.
Malloy early this morning called it “an honest budget that ends the games of the past and puts Connecticut on the road to a better tomorrow.”
“As you’ve heard me say many times, we needed to send the business community a message that we’re serious about stabilizing the state’s finances. We did that — and then some,” said Malloy, who called the budget the “signature effort” of the session.
Still, given the increase in taxes, the concessions requested of state workers and the program cuts, Malloy said “this budget is nothing to celebrate, not when it asks for so much sacrifice from so many people. Let us hope this is the last time we need to go down this road.”
As the first Democratic governor in Connecticut in two decades, Malloy put his stamp on a legislative agenda that reorganized governance for higher education, combined 81 agencies to 57, passed a major energy bill, extended anti-discrimination protections to transgendered persons and approved an in-state tuition bill for illegal immigrants.
“On each of these issues, and a few others, we managed to pass into law progressive policies that will define Connecticut as a place of common decency,” Malloy said, referring also to safety net programs for the poor and the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana.
On the jobs front, lawmakers approved an $864 million plan to upgrade and expand the University of Connecticut Health Center that is projected to create 16,400 jobs by 2037, as well as 3,000 construction jobs immediately, while another bill offers substantial help to five companies that promise to create a minimum of 200 new jobs in two years or invest $25 million to bring on 200 new jobs within the next five years.
Malloy said he wants education reform to be one of the major issues of the next legislative session in January, but said he wants lawmakers to call a special session this fall to deal exclusively with jobs.
“It’s an emergency, and we need to continue to treat it as such,” he said of the high unemployment rate.
“I’ve also asked my Commissioner of Economic Development, Catherine Smith, to work with me for the next few months as we crisscross this state to listen to and share our ideas with the business community about ways state government can aid in job creation,” Malloy said.
State Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, characterized the session as “highly successful.”
“We passed a budget ahead of schedule in an orderly fashion, prospectively approved the union contract, adopted a state earned income tax for the working poor and added more progressivity to our income tax,” Looney said.
The Republican minority sees it differently.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said everyone expected the session to be dominated by the first term governor. “What has been the surprise is that it went from one-party government to one-branch government,” he said.
State Sen. Leonard Fasano, R-North Haven, agreed. “I was very disappointed with the lack of communication with the minority party,” Fasano said.
Cafero accused Malloy of “saying one thing and doing another,” such as recommending an up or down vote by lawmakers on the union package, something that is not expected to happen.
He was critical of a paid sick leave bill, the first in the country, that mandates up to 5 paid sick days a year for service workers in companies with more than 50 workers, but which allows vacation or personal days to count, while it exempts manufacturing jobs.
Fasano also worried that “the tax increases will hurt” the people of the state.
Of major concern is a report by the Office of Fiscal Analysis that it was not given enough data to verify $1 billion of the projected $1.6 billion in savings and concessions outlined in the union deal. The administration is standing by its numbers, and Malloy said they will have to make it work, as taxes won’t be increased further.
The biggest unknown is ratification of the agreement by 45,000 state workers. Voting by the 34 individual bargaining units in the 15-union State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition has begun, but won’t be concluded until June 24, with results announced June 27.
Malloy urged a favorable vote. “Upon ratification, Connecticut will have a state government that is sustainable. That means government will be able to provide the services that are needed, but at a lower cost to taxpayers,” he said.
He has said rejection of the contract changes will result in the layoffs of some 7,500 workers and drastic program cuts that will necessitate a special session of the General Assembly.
A total of 14 of the 15 unions have to agree to the changes, with 80 percent of those voting in concurrence.
“Democracy is a very messy and complicated thing. Our chief concern is the integrity of the vote and the entire decision making process by our members,” said Matthew O’Connor, a spokesman for SEBAC, who said they continue to hold education sessions with the members.
Contact Mary E. O’Leary at 203-789-5731.
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