TORRINGTON — After months of sparring over the state’s budget crisis, gubernatorial contenders Dan Malloy and Tom Foley entered the campaign’s final full week daring each other to show all of the fiscal cards.
And when they weren’t demanding details about tax hikes or spending cuts, the candidates spent much of the rest of Monday’s debate at The Warner Theatre laying the blame for Connecticut’s economic woes at the feet of each other’s political allies.
“Whose taxes are you going to increase and by how much?” Foley asked Malloy when given the chance to pose a direct question.
And when Malloy spent much of his two-minute answer pledging first to examine and reorganize state government, and then adding he would consider canceling existing tax exemptions, Foley accused his Democratic opponent of planning to close most of the $3.26 billion budget deficit projected for next year with tax hikes.
“Who is going to vote for somebody who says he’s going to raise their taxes, but won’t say how much, or who he’s going to raise them on?” Foley said. “Ladies and gentlemen, have you ever heard a better example of what a career politician is?”
Malloy, the former mayor of Stamford, then took aim at the GOP nominee’s pledge to close the largest shortfall in state history with no tax increases. That plan hinges on revenues both from state taxes and from federal grants growing well beyond the forecasts of major economists and state fiscal analysts, and billions of dollars in potential cuts that Foley has discussed — in many cases — in concept but not in detail.
“Tom, tell us what $2 billion you’ll cut out of the budget?” Malloy asked, then also challenged Foley to detail his promise to find the full $3.26 billion in cuts needed to close the deficit if the revenue growth he hopes for doesn’t come through.
Foley said he would look to implement efficiencies proposed by the Thomas Commission, a study panel formed to streamline state government 20 years ago. He didn’t identify any specific ideas from that plan, and offered additional general statements, adding he would reform state purchasing and freeze hiring.
Foley even raised a few grumbles from audience members in seats reserved for his own campaign when he suggested trying to reduce incarceration rates to cut prison costs by treating more nonviolent offenders outside of jail.
The GOP nominee added that “I don’t need to provide a list of those savings” needed if the revenue growth doesn’t develop, since “it’s totally implausible that we’re not going to get more money from the federal government.
Malloy charged Foley’s pledge to live within his means while offering limited details, is not new. “It’s something no Republican governor has been able to do before you,” he said,.
Malloy also said that his own budget, unlike Foley’s, would not shred social services and health care for the poor and disabled, and would work in partnership with state employee unions, rather than in an adversarial role.
When they weren’t challenging the legitimacy of each other’s budget plans, the candidates each tried to blame the other’s party for state’s current fiscal mess.
Why has Connecticut struggled to grow jobs for more than a decade?
“You have been supporting, along with the Democrat-controlled (state) legislature, policies that are driving jobs out of this state,” Foley told Malloy before pledging to provide “adult supervision for this legislature, which is out of control.”
A Democrat-sponsored measure that has been gaining support in Hartford, and that has Malloy’s support, would allow paid sick leave for part-time workers after they accumulate sufficient hours on the job — an initiative that Foley called typical of the “job-killer” legislation produced by the Democrats.
But Malloy fired back that Republicans, whom Foley has supported, have controlled the governor’s office since 1995, and that Connecticut has not enjoyed any substantial net new job growth since then.
“We have not benchmarked our tax system, nor our regulatory structure,” the Democratic nominee said. The result: more than $5.3 billion in credits, exemptions and other tax breaks on the books, many of which help big business and the wealthy, and electric rates that are 76 percent higher than the national average, he added.
Malloy also defended his support for the sick-leave measure, adding that many workers forced to take part-time jobs lack Foley’s considerable personal wealth.
“I don’t want someone taking care of your grandchild in a day-care center coming into work sick,” Malloy told the audience. “Tom, if you didn’t come into work sick, you’d still be able to rely on your millions.”
Though Foley repeated his pledge to seek concessions from state employee unions — including givebacks on an expensive, long-term health and pension benefits contract ratified in 1997 by then-Gov. John G. Rowland — he added that the GOP governor was not at fault. “It would be hard to foresee” the problems it would create 13 years into the future, Foley said.
But Malloy, who has taken heat from Foley for indicating on a union questionnaire that he didn’t intend to impose layoffs if elected, said the Republican administration understood the fiscal challenges very well.
“I just don’t buy the argument,” Malloy said, noting that Rowland signed a deal with the unions at the same time that effectively redesigned the pension system to defer costs in the short-term, but set up major balloon payments Connecticut will face over the next decade.
Even a question about high-profile politicians the candidates admire devolved into a debate over economic responsibility.
When Malloy named Bill Clinton, he said the former president led the creation of “millions and millions of jobs.” But he quickly added that “unfortunately under Republican (gubernatorial) leadership, none of it came to Connecticut.”
Foley tapped New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a GOP chief executive working with a Democrat-controlled state legislature who can provide a good example because “he is taking on many of the entrenched (special) interests we are dealing with here in Connecticut.”