In Hartford, Malloy pressed to tax the wealthy and expand health care

Those who spoke out on the state budget Monday in one of Connecticut’s poorest cities Monday pressed Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to seek more in taxes from the state’s wealthiest citizens and corporations.

The crowd of more than 250 who attended Malloy’s budget hearing at the Kinsella Magnet School on Van Block Avenue also included a half-dozen citizens who pushed for  universal health care through the SustiNet model–a common theme at all eight regional budget hearings to date.

“People on the top are doing amazingly well,” Wilson Tirado of New Britain, a nurse at the Riverview Hospital, a state mental health facility for abused children, told Malloy. “Governor, I think it is time for real shared sacrifice.”

Tirado got a big round of applause after reminding Malloy that residents earning $7 an hour have to pay the same $2.69 for a loaf of a bread that a Connecticut’s wealthiest households pay.

Suffield resident Suzanne Irwin also traveled to the capital city to question the $1.5 billion in new taxes Malloy is seeking, noting that several of the new income tax brackets the governor has proposed are aimed at annual income of $200,000 or less.

Malloy, who frequently reminded the crowd that he inherited a projected deficit of roughly $3.3 billion for the coming fiscal year–a gap equal to nearly one-fifth of current spending–offered a two-pronged defense.

Malloy noted that the linchpin of a nearly $1 billion annual tax hike enacted in 2009 under then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell was centered on an income tax increase aimed solely at individuals earning more than $500,000 and couples topping $1 million. And his tax proposal does boost the top income tax rate from 6.5 to 6.7 percent, while also adding a sales tax surcharge on expensive jewelry, cars, boats and luxury clothing.

“What I’m saying is we need to have a balance,” the governor said, earning a round of applause himself when he reminded Hartford residents his proposed earned income tax credit could save a low-income family with two children about $948 per year.

But Malloy also said he could make most Connecticut residents happy by aiming tax hikes solely at the wealthy and big corporations, but that would hinder his effort to bolster job growth in a state that has seen relatively little for two decades now.

“My goal is to have Connecticut address its systemic problem,” he said. “This budget is very much about job creation.”

Receiving a round of grumbles after adding that “everyone’s for shared sacrifice except when it comes to them,” Malloy quickly amended his statement to begin with “many people.”

Malloy was able to turn an embarrassing gaffe into a room-wide chuckle after veteran Judicial Branch worker Stacy Tarkowski began her appeal for higher taxes on the wealthy by saying “Good evening Governor Rowland.”

Rowland, who served 10 years from 1995 through June 2004, resigned amid an impeachment inquiry and later served 10 months in federal prison after admitting to accepting gifts from state contractors and subordinates.

As Tarkowski turned red-faced and apologized, explaining “I’m nervous,” Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman–who assists at all budget hearings and leads questioners to a central microphone–quickly jumped in and said “I would not be lieutenant governor” in that administration. Rell served as Rowland’s lieutenant.

Malloy smiled and quickly addressed Wyman, saying “Jodi, could you take care of that?” Then, turning to Tarkowski, he added, “you’ll get over that, and so will I.”

Much of Monday’s hearing also centered on the SustiNet health care model, a proposed state-backed health care plan. Malloy has said he wants to hold off implementation of the plan while the state’s budget problems are being resolved.

Wilda Bermudez of Hartford, said she couldn’t find work immediately after college two years ago, had to live with her mother, and therefore couldn’t find health care. “I think you are being a little short-sighted,” she told Malloy, adding she believes the SustiNet model with bring more federal health care dollars to Connecticut, improve residents’ health, and ultimately save funding.

But Malloy responded that while he has a massive deficit to deal with now, he can’t be certain that SustiNet would translate into immediate savings, pledging to revisit it in future years.

“I’m not against health care,” he said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. But I’ve got a $3.3 billion deficit…  I’m looking to do whatever we can afford.”

The governor also noted that his administration also must prepare state government to implement federal health care reform, which will expand coverage for hundreds of thousands of residents by 2014.

But after several more appeals for SustiNet, including a complaint from Joel Cruz of Hartford that cancer patients such as his father can’t wait for health care to improve by 2014, Malloy reduces his responses to: “Thank you very much.”

The governor did win applause from the crowd for noting that while his budget doesn’t expand funding for social service, it preserves current levels for most of the largest programs of Connecticut’s safety net.

Malloy also heard an appeal from Beth Smith, a state employee who campaigned for him in Bridgeport and Hartford, to further reduce management posts in state government before cutting vital services.

“They’re holding on with these top-heavy positions and it is not fair, governor,” she said. “It is wrong.”

The governor, whose budget would reduce 81 state agencies to 57 through mergers or eliminations, said it is “literally a first step,” and agreed with Smith that “we have too much management.”

Malloy added that after just over two months in office, “I haven’t learned everything I need to know” about which management posts are vital, and which are expendable. “But we’ve got to work tirelessly to squeeze out and flatten management.”