Gubernatorial race comes back to jobs and taxes

After months of debates, press conferences and policy statements, Connecticut’s gubernatorial battle boiled down to just a few simple issues Monday as Dan Malloy and Tom Foley hit the campaign trail one last time: jobs and taxes.

“I don’t want to increase taxes, certainly not on the middle class,” Malloy told Anthony Abbate, a retired Trumbull police officer who was eating breakfast at the Valley Diner in Derby.

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Tom Foley wraps up his campaign talking with patrons at The Grind coffee shop in West Hartford (Keith M. Phaneuf)

But the Democratic nominee, who has been accused by his wealthy Republican opponent of planning to rely chiefly on tax hikes to close the $3.3 billion state budget deficit, added, “Maybe on Mr. Foley. He could probably afford to pay more.”

Foley, who has pumped some $10 million of his personal funds into his race, wrapped up the campaign with a continued pledge of no new taxes, period.

“People want reassurances,” he said. “They want to know that we will reduce spending and not raise taxes so we can make this state more employer-friendly.”

Malloy continued to make the case Monday that Foley’s pledge simply isn’t realistic.

“Every Republican governor says he isn’t going to raise taxes and every Republican governor ends up raising taxes,” he said, referring to current Gov. M. Jodi Rell, her predecessor John G. Rowland, and Lowell P. Weicker, a former Republican, who launched a successful third-party bid for governor and then signed Connecticut’s first state income tax into law. “Go figure.”

Abbate, a Democrat, said he’s less concerned with party affiliation and more about the candidates’ determination to grow jobs and control government spending. “There’s a limit to what the people can pay.”

Daniel Loyens, unaffiliated voter and insulation salesman from Derby, was pleased to hear Malloy pledge to try to reverse a raid approved this year by Rell and the legislature on a state energy conservation fund that helps support private-sector energy efficiency industry.

“They stole the money from that fund,” Loyens, said, referring to a plan to support up to $956 million in borrowing to prop up this year’s state budget, and to pay off that debt with a conservation fund raid and a new surcharge on monthly utility bills.

Foley, who stopped into The Grind coffee shop in West Hartford center Monday afternoon, said most last-minute feedback he’s received from voters has been about the need to cut spending and not raise taxes.

But Barbara Lerner of West Hartford, a Democrat who called Foley a “good candidate” after chatting with him briefly Monday, adding she remains uncertain about the Greenwich businessman’s no-tax-hike plan, which hinges on very rosy assumptions about economic growth and federal aid for Connecticut.

“I never believe things like that until they’re actually in office and it happens,” Lerner said.

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Dan Malloy talks with Joe Viglione (center) and Anthony Abbate at the Valley Diner in Derby (Keith M. Phaneuf)

Patricia Trenchard, a Hamden Republican who also stopped to talk with Foley at the coffee shop, said that while she also is skeptical about the chances of erasing that huge shortfall with no tax increases, she still believes Foley’s philosophy will emphasize spending reductions over new revenue. “I’d like to see him get a chance to do it,” she said. “But I don’t think anyone has the power to fix it immediately” without tax increases.

Foley said he can understand voters wariness of all those campaigning for office.

“People feel government has gotten them into this place … and they are looking for reassurance that things are going to change,” said Foley, who has never held elected office and who argues that only a political outsider can produce the type of dramatic fiscal reforms needed to close the deficit and revive the job market.

Malloy, who was mayor of Stamford for 14 years through 2009, has campaigned on a message that his experience in managing municipal budgets and his overall knowledge of government offers the ideal background for accomplishing that task.

“We have had an unbelievable last three days” on the campaign trail, Malloy said, adding that voters are responding with confidence that he can do the job.

But Malloy, who once led Foley by double-digits in the polls, found himself trailing by 3 percentage points in the Quinnipiac University survey released Monday morning, though that difference was within the poll’s margin of error.

Still, visits last weekend by President Obama and by former President Bill Clinton have left Democrats energized to make a strong, final push, Malloy said, adding that “I feel good about where we are.”