Malloy in Washington: ‘I want to be very aggressive’

WASHINGTON–Gov.-elect Dan Malloy read through the official transition budget, with its $3.4 billion lines in red ink, on an airplane flight to Washington Tuesday morning.

And when he stepped off the jet, Malloy kicked off a lobbying effort in D.C. that he says could be a big part of the solution to the financial crisis awaiting him back in Hartford.

“I want to be very aggressive in going after federal money,” Malloy said. “I’m going to be in Washington a lot.”

Asked if he thought outgoing Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell did not pursue federal dollars aggressively enough, he asked: “How many times have you seen Jodi Rell down here?”

Noting that he plans to be back in Washington in just ten days, he added, “that tells you something.”

After speaking at a Democratic Leadership Council forum on divided government Tuesday morning, Malloy held meetings with Housing and Urban Affairs Secretary Shaun Donovan and Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari. Those are just first in what Malloy said would be a series of sessions he holds with top federal officials to make Connecticut’s case for more federal money.

“We didn’t do well in Connecticut [getting federal dollars] when times were good,” Malloy added. “I’m trying to reverse that trend,” even as Washington looks to slash spending.

Malloy said he started with those two agencies for good reason.

“I want to put a marker down” that Connecticut will be forceful in seeking affordable housing funds.  “And there’s no bigger issue of economic development in Connecticut than transportation,” Malloy said.

His message to those two top Obama Administration appointees: “That I’m a capital expenditure kind of guy.”

On transportation, in particular, Malloy noted that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie recently announced he was cancelling an $8 billion transportation project–a rail tunnel under the Hudson River from New Jersey to New York–that was slated to get a significant chunk of federal money.

“If that’s going to be reallocated, I want some of it reallocated in the Metropolitan New York area, meaning on I-95,” Malloy said, adding that he planned to raise this issue in his meeting with Porcari today.

But Malloy’s lobbying blitz gets underway when any plea for more money, no matter what the cause, will likely be a tough sell in Washington. Republicans gained control of the House, and increased their ranks in the Senate, on a campaign pledge of fiscal austerity.

Now, both parties are now trying to outmaneuver each other on an earmark ban, among other spending issues. And Connecticut’s delegation will hold significantly less sway in the next Congress, with top powerbrokers like Sen. Chris Dodd retiring and Rep. John Larson serving in the minority.

Malloy dismissed the notion that his pitch for increased federal cash was ill-timed. He noted that his party still holds power in key places in Washington and says he expects to find a receptive audience from his Democratic allies.

“We’ve got the president. We’ve got the Senate, and we’ve got the governor,” Malloy said. “I don’t know how you make that into a problem.”

Besides, he quipped, “You’ve got a lot of [newly-elected] Republican governors who are saying they don’t want to spend money … So I’m hoping all of those governors are going to stay home” while he’s in D.C. searching for spare cash.

He said he opposed the move, now afoot in Congress, to ban earmarks. But he said he wasn’t too worried about how it might impact Connecticut, noting that every state would be subject to the same new restrictions if they’re adopted.

“I think it’s politics making policy, but whatever the rules are we’ll play under those rules,” Malloy said.

Malloy’s next Washington trip is set for Dec. 1st and 2nd, when he’ll attend a meeting of the Democratic Governors Association and a White House briefing on homeland security and military issues. He’s also hoping to meet with Connecticut’s congressional delegation during that visit.

“I want them to understand that … I am prepared to come to Washington on short notice, so that Connecticut can reverse what is a long trend of not having received our fair share,” Malloy said of his message to the delegation.

In the coming months, Malloy said he hoping to meet with a slew of other Administration officials. “I’ll have issues for energy, I’ll have issues for homeland defense, I’ll have issues for everything,” he added.