Malloy brings state budget to Norwalk
NORWALK -- Gov. Dannel P. Malloy arrived a few minutes late to the Norwalk Concert Hall for one of the last of 17 public forums his administration scheduled statewide to pitch his proposals to close a $3.3 billion deficit.
"You are the 14th of these I've done," the Democrat told the mostly friendly audience of a few hundred seated in the hall.
It showed. Malloy's contingent was like a well-oiled machine and quickly made up for their tardiness, flipping through charts as the governor rattled off a well-rehearsed defense of his first two-year budget and opened the floor to questions.
Malloy, who kicked off his tour Feb. 21 in Bridgeport, during a brief interview beforehand said after all these weeks on the road, he continues to believe he has the best solution to the state's fiscal and economic strife.
"I think we have the right framework," Malloy said. "I think the public gets what I'm trying to do."
Asked if, following his final three stops, including Wednesday in Danbury, his budget will reflect some of the concerns and suggestions he has heard, Malloy said, "There are things that may appear in this process further down when we know all the cards are on the table."
The governor is still hoping to secure $2 billion in concessions from state employees -- a number some skeptics have called unrealistic. Talks continue, but Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy's chief adviser, said Monday the administration has begun asking agency heads to identify 10 percent worth of cuts by April 13. Occhiogrosso said that would shave an additional $150 million from the budget.
"There's a lot (else) he would have to do," Occhiogrosso said, including tougher cuts and layoffs.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said this was the first town hall he has attended and Malloy appears committed to his plan.
"You have a very, very headstrong man -- I don't mean that in the negative sense," Cafero said. "I don't think he's willing to compromise on the framework."
While often displaying a sense of humor and thanking audience members who lined up with questions, Malloy occasionally appeared exasperated with fielding the same criticisms.
One Stamford man, for example, reiterated a complaint voiced at other towns halls about luxury taxes the governor has proposed on yachts.
"You and I get to talk about boats right now," Malloy said. "I've got 9 percent unemployment in the state, a budget that's $3.3 billion out of balance and we're cutting expenditures for Medicare ... Honestly if you have suggestions to make we want to hear them (but) give me solid suggestions on what to do."
"Listen, you're looking at a guy who in a couple of weeks may have to announce another billion to billion and a half of cuts," Malloy said.
But Jessica Carroll, of Norwalk, an employee with the state Department of Social Services, followed up, claiming the governor's combination of union concessions and tax hikes will destroy the middle class.
"How can you call this a shared sacrifice?" she said.
Malloy responded that state employee benefits are better than those of congressmen.
"Most Americans think of what Congress has as the Cadillac plan," he said.
Malloy also disappointed audience members such as Paul Retter, of Wilton, hoping the governor will reconsider his opposition to the so-called SustiNet initiative that would see Connecticut government become a public insurance provider.
"I believe in the goals of SustiNet," Malloy said. "I don't believe in the vehicle as currently designed."
He said the program would offer unaffordable state employee-caliber benefits.
To another questioner from Weston who wanted Malloy to further tax the rich, the governor said if his proposal passed the highest tax rates will have increased 36 percent over the past 20 months.
"To pretend a 36 percent increase is not a big ask, I think is just not reality," he said.
\But Malloy said the administration is looking at obtaining those same revenues through higher boating registration fees rather than taxes.
Staff Writer Brian Lockhart can be reached at email@example.com