Struggle to fix state’s finances gave Malloy his victories and losses

Keith M. Phaneuf
June 9, 2011

Looking back on the just-ended 2011 legislative session, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said today the struggle to put Connecticut’s fiscal house in order and invigorate its economy created most of  successes as well as his one disappointment.

Malloy, who fielded reporters questions nine hours after the legislature adjourned, said he and lawmakers made “a sizable down payment” against unemployment with new job creation tax incentives, an $864 million plan to expand the University of Connecticut Health Center, and a new authority to market Bradley International Airport.

But perhaps the most important step the new administration and the legislature took to get Connecticut’s economy growing again was to quell the uncertainty about the future created by filling the $3.67 billion deficit built into the next budget when Malloy took office in January, the governor said.

“It is an honest budget, a straightforward budget,” he said of the $40.54 billion, two-year plan that raises $1.5 billion in new state taxes in 2011-12, seeks $1.6 billion in labor savings over two years and consolidates more than 80 agencies down to less than 60.

A bill that requires most companies to provide paid sick leave has been decried by the Connecticut Business and Industry Association as a dangerous mandate that will scare companies away from the state, but Malloy rejected that premise. “CBIA tends to see the glass as half empty,” the governor said, adding it was important to give all residents a basic benefit that more than three-quarters of Connecticut workers already enjoy. CBIA officials “warn people of threats that don’t exist and they are pretty good at it.”

Still, the governor announced he would work with his department heads and private business leaders all summer developing more initiatives to create jobs, and then call lawmakers back into special session this fall to enact them.

“We need to come back and work on jobs,” he said, calling it his one disappointment that more wasn’t done to accelerate Connecticut’s recovery from the last recession.

The one big question mark in the Malloy budget, though, is a tentative labor concession deal that the administration insists would save $700 million next fiscal year and $900 million in 2012-13.

State employee unions aren’t expected to finish their ratification votes before June 24 and Malloy already has said that if the deal is rejected, he would consider well above the 4,700 layoffs he had planned before a tentative package was announced.

“I’m not bullying anybody,” the governor said Thursday of his recent warnings that massive layoffs would be unavoidable if the deal is rejected. “Talking in real terms and telling the truth is not bullying.

“We can get through this without people losing their jobs” and still keeping strong health care and pension benefits, Malloy said. “That’s a pretty good solution compared to what’s going on in other states.”

But with or without concessions, he added, “we’re going to have a balanced budget.”

“I did a lot of things I’m proud of,” Malloy said, adding that a package of criminal justice reforms, and a measure banning discrimination against the transgendered community – though not economic development measures – were key accomplishments nonetheless.

“It was the best session I ever had,” quipped the governor, who never served in state government before this year.

Malloy also said that “in all probability” he would sign a controversial bill that swaps 17 acres of state land near the Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station in Haddam for 88 acres adjacent to the Cockaponset State Forest, also in that community. A private firm wants to use the state land, which has been preserved for its environmental value, for industrial development.

The governor and his administration had been relatively silent about the proposed deal during the session, and Malloy said Thursday that “I really hadn’t had a lot of time to work on that issue.”

©Copyright 2011 The Connecticut News Project. All rights reserved.

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