Bipartisan consensus: A good first day for the new governor

Gov. Dan Malloy balanced Connecticut’s past glories as an industrial and entrepreneurial power against the challenges of its contemporary fiscal crisis today in a State of the State address praised by fellow Democrats, opposition Republicans, business and organized labor.

“I was impressed. I think it was a good start,” said House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk “When we are in these dark days and you have a brand new governor, regardless of party, you want to see energy, you want to see upbeat, you want to see optimism. And I think Gov. Malloy communicated all those things.”

“I think the governor is to be applauded,” said Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, R-Fairfield, who predicted the Malloy honeymoon would last at least until the release of his budget next month.

Now, Malloy just has to deliver.

Legislators say Malloy’s more important address will come next month, when he presents his first budget and begins to define what he means by his calls for “shared sacrifice.” His union backers have one idea of how sacrifice should be shared. He can count on business to have another.

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Gov. Dan Malloy delivers his State of the State address to the General Assembly

But on his first day, Malloy was cautiously applauded both by Paul Filson, the political director of the Service Employees International Union, and by Joseph F. Brennan, the senior vice president of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association.

The governor’s 22-minute State of the State and his 11-minute inaugural remarks had something for everyone. There was a nod to business about the state’s dismal business climate and its inability to achieve net job growth for decades. He emphasized his call for fiscal restraint.

“I think that was absolutely important,” Brennan said.

Behind the applause was hope Malloy can find a middle ground on taxes and spending cuts, an equilibrium he can sell to the state as fair, as shared sacrifice.

“If it’s truly shared sacrifice and it’s implemented fairly, I think we could all look positively on what he said,” said SEIU’s Filson, whose union was a key supporter in Malloy’s narrow, 6,404 vote win in November over  Republican businessman Tom Foley.

Malloy offered a few promises. He will place Bradley International Airport under the control of an independent authority, one that can more nimbly react to the market and grow its passenger base. It’s an idea the Republican minority already has endorsed.

A former mayor of Stamford, Malloy also promised to be a partner with cities and towns, though it was left unsaid if this new partner would conjure the means to maintain the state’s current level of municipal aid, now about $2.9 billion of the $19 billion state budget.

“We will make state government make sense, to serve the people better, to shorten the distance between what they need and when they get it,” Malloy said.  “In the coming weeks and months, you will hear a lot about reducing the size of government, from the size of my office, to the number of state agencies.”

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Moderate Democrats in the Senate, who helped block efforts two years ago for a major increase in marginal income tax rates on upper-middle class and wealthy households, were heartened by the new governor’s endorsement of fiscal transparency, merging agencies and reducing staff.

“This is a governor who is extremely focused and knows what our problems are,” said Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford. “He wants to tell the people about the truth of our budget.”

Sen. Paul Doyle, D-Wethersfield, said that Malloy’s speech left him “very eager to see the budget he will propose” next month for the coming fiscal year. That plan must close a projected $3.67 billion deficit, a gap equal to nearly one-fifth of current spending.

Doyle and other Democrats also gave the new governor high marks for keeping the blame out of his assessment of the state’s fiscal crisis.

Gridlock over spending and tax issues between outgoing Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the Democrat-controlled legislature led to billions of dollars worth of revenue from one-time sources used to prop up the last two annual budgets – one of the biggest factors behind the current deficit.

“That was the past. We have to go forward,” said Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, new House chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee. “We’ve had our fights. We’ve had our issues. Now we have to find the solutions.”

House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, said Malloy clearly reached out to both parties with his positive tone. “That’s my hope,” he said, “that we’re all serious” about solving the deficit.

“Clearly he wants to begin with a sense of partnership with the legislature,” added Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven.

Some Republicans said, however, that Malloy will have to be a forceful partner if he is to achieve fiscal reforms.

“I would be shocked if the legislature proposes a budget of shared sacrifice. I appreciate his optimism, but I see many of the same faces here that have put that sacrifice on the same people year after year,” said Rep. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, a senior Republican on the Appropriations Committee. “Prior to now, our calls to cut spending have fallen on deaf ears.”

Miner’s pessimism was in the minority, at least for today.

Malloy insisted the next years will be remembered as Connecticut’s finest.

“Future generations will look back on this particular crossroads of crisis and opportunity and say that we rallied, we reached deep, we chose well to leave this great state better than we found it,” Malloy said. “After all, we know as the people of Connecticut, it is in our nature to do so.”