Malloy puts best face on state’s economy while remaining coy about 2014 election

Though Gov. Dannel P. Malloy insists he hasn’t decided whether to seek another term, the issue he will focus on – should he run – became clear during a Tuesday morning radio appearance: jobs and the Connecticut economy.

Making his regular monthly appearance on “Where We Live,” WNPR’s daily public affairs show, the Democratic governor spent much of the hour putting the best face possible on the state’s job market.

Malloy, who took office in January 2011, said he’s also proud of his efforts to bolster state savings for public-sector retirement programs and funding for education, adding that high school graduation rates are improving across Connecticut.

But the latest report from the state Labor Department had some good news and some bad news for Connecticut’s job market, and Malloy made his pitch to see the sunny side of the economy.

“You can’t name a recent governor who’s had net job growth,” Malloy said. “I’m the one — no others.”

Last week’s labor report showed Connecticut gained 11,500 jobs in July, and Malloy said the Nutmeg State has added 40,000 since he became governor nearly 32 months ago. In fairness, Malloy became governor right as the national economy began to crawl out of the depths of the recession, pushing up job growth in most states.

And Don Klepper-Smith, a veteran economist with DataCore Partners of New Haven, challenged the latest job figures this week.

Klepper-Smith, who was chief economic adviser to Malloy’s Republican predecessor, Gov. M. Jodi Rell, noted that job growth in the first half of 2013 is up just 0.6 percent compared with the same period in 2012.

Job growth estimates typically fluctuate by large amounts, and often are revised. And for 11,500 new jobs to be accurate estimate, some pretty drastic changes had to occur.

That July figure represents more than double the growth rate Connecticut has enjoyed so far this year.

It also represents a significant share all jobs gained in the nation in July – if it is correct.

“Connecticut has a little over 1 percent of the nation’s jobs, but had 7 percent of the job growth?” Klepper-Smith asked, adding it’s an unbelieveable statistic for a state that finished last in business productivity last year. “That’s not consistent with the larger trends.”

Even Malloy was hesitant to guarantee that 11,500-job-growth number wouldn’t be scaled back in future Labor Department reports.

“Whether it holds up or not, I think it is the right trend,” he said.

Despite job growth in July, the unemployment rate rose slightly from 8 to 8.1 percent as nearly 12,000 more people entered the labor force.

The governor said even that last number is a sign of growing confidence in Connecticut’s economy. “People are sensing that it’s easier to get a job,” he said.

Malloy also said the state’s economy would be bolstered by a state budget that is far more stable than the one he inherited.

“We’re turning this ship around,” the governor said. “Connecticut was badly run, badly run, for a long period of time.”

There was a built-in shortfall projected at $3.7 billion, or nearly one-fifth of the annual operating budget, for the 2011-12 fiscal year when Malloy won the last election.

Nonpartisan state analysts are projecting a deficit of $712 million for the first budget after the 2014 election, a gap of about 4 percent.

State government also had about 1,200 fewer full-time equivalent positions entering this summer compared with January 2011, the governor said.

Though the latest state budget Malloy signed defers several fiscal challenges until after the November 2014 gubernatorial election, the governor has been and remained coy about when and if he will formally declare his candidacy for re-election.

On the Republican side, both state Senate Majority Leader John P. McKinney of Fairfield, and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, already have indicated their plans to seek the GOP gubernatorial nomination.

Greenwich businessman Tom Foley, the party’s 2010 nominee who narrowly lost that contest to Malloy, hasn’t declared yet for 2014 but is expected to do so.

“Are you running for re-election in 2014?” talk show host John Dankosky asked Malloy to open Tuesday’s program.

“Not now, no,” the governor replied, with an emphasis on the word “now.”

“I’m not a declared candidate and I’ve no intention of, you know, doing that in the near future. Those are decisions (for) in the future.”

When asked why he hadn’t reached a decision yet, Malloy added that it’s “because I’m governor. Because I have a job to do. … The Republicans will run a heated race and good luck to them.”

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