Malloy budget gets cheers, boos from local legislators
Area legislators had an ambivalent reaction to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's two-year state budget unveiled Wednesday, which proposes a series of tax increases and major concessions from state employees to close a projected state budget deficit of more than $3 billion.
"I simply do not believe that we have done enough to reduce government," said state Rep. Tony Hwang, R-134, whose district includes parts of Fairfield and Trumbull.
Despite Malloy's pledge to save approximately $2 billion over the next two years in state workers' compensation and benefits packages, Hwang and other Republican legislators said the governor fell short of outlining sufficient spending cuts. Malloy's budget projects the state budget to grow by 2.4 percent in each of the next two fiscal years.
"It looked on first appearance as a job protection budget," said state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-26, whose district includes Westport.
She added that she supports Malloy's bid to consolidate state agencies, but would like to have seen the proposal further shrink the state workforce. Malloy's consolidation initiative, she said, would only cut about 150 state jobs.
Fairfeild state Rep. Brenda Kupchick, R-132, suggested that cutting the work force of state employee from 45,000 to 40,000, with the exception of State Police and other public safety workers, would have indicated Malloy's intent to substantially cut state spending.
"When people are losing their homes, when we have unemployment at such a high rate and jobs are leaving the state, that's the kind of measure that would have gotten people's attention," she said.
Malloy's budget garnered more support from members of his own party. While reserving judgment on the budget as a whole, state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-136, of Westport said he supports the governor's positions on several key issues.
"I was very heartened by his emphasis on education and transportation," he said. "I think those are good places to invest."
Malloy's stance on education and transportation also garnered general support from Hwang, Kupchick and Boucher. State education funding next year for Westport and Fairfield would remain essentially unchanged from current year levels.
Fairfield and Westport will respectively receive this year about $3 million and $2 million in state education funding.
The governor's budget, which proposes essentially level funding for municipalities, received a largely favorable response from the first selectmen of Fairfield and Westport, Democrats Kenneth Flatto and Gordon Joseloff.
"By making a commitment to support level funding and not slashing aid to towns, he really is throwing us a lifeline," Flatto said.
Several of Malloy's proposed tax increases, such as hikes in the sales tax and conveyance tax for real estate transactions, could bring in additional revenues to municipalities, a move that Joseloff backed.
"I applaud Governor Malloy for tackling head on the state's budget issues," he said in a press release. "While no one likes more taxes, clearly they are necessary as part of an overall plan to get Connecticut back on track to improved economic health."
Joseloff added that Malloy's budget could create an additional $1.5 million conveyance tax revenue and another $500,000 next year in sales tax receipts for the town.
In Fairfield, Flatto said the town could net additional receipts between $500,000 and $1 million if the General Assembly approves Malloy's proposed tax increases. Flatto added he would seek to have new tax revenues accompanied by lower property tax rates or other tax relief measures for Fairfielders.
But these potential sources of new revenue for the town elicited a lukewarm reaction from Republican legislators.
"The district and the state need to make common-sense sacrifices in reducing our spending without imposing additional taxes on the backs of the people in our communities," Hwang said.
In place of higher taxes, he recommended the sale of state-owned assets like Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks and Riverview Hospital, a psychiatric hospital for children located in Middletown, as more effective means to raise new funds.
Boucher agreed with Hwang, and added that Malloy's budget created an excessively large tax burden that would push residents and businesses to leave the state.
"This is pretty ugly," she said. "The few job-creation things he's put in there are just minor in comparison."
Despite their criticisms, local Republican legislators praised the governor's budget for its transparency.
"It's an honest budget," Kupchick said. "He's not playing any games. He's not trying to borrow money for operating costs."
Malloy's budget will face months of debate and undergo a series of revisions in the General Assembly before it is likely voted on by both chambers of the legislature by the end of the current session in June. The General Assembly, however, did not approve the current two-year budget until September 2009, following a months-long impasse with former Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
"It's his budget now, but here on in it becomes the legislature's budget," Steinberg said. "We have to decide what to keep and what not to keep. That's where the dance begins."