NEW BRITAIN–On his 15th night on the road and with two more town-hall meetings ahead of him, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Tuesday he has heard no credible alternative to his unpopular mix of tax increases, spending cuts and labor concessions.
“The legislature has an opportunity to move things around and to disagree and to come up with their own version of it,” Malloy said, facing a crowd dominated by state employees and blue-collar workers. “But I yet to find somebody who says, you know, that they actually have a way better.”
In this old hardware city, which has bled manufacturing jobs for decades, a subdued Malloy fielded questions and comments from residents already fearful of local spending cuts and tax increases and from union activists who urged him to hit the rich harder.
But Malloy, who once was a prosecutor, seemed to be formulating the beginnings of a summation, a message to be finalized, perhaps, Wednesday night in Danbury or next week in Middletown, the end of a 17-city tour to sell his budget.
“This is the package. The rudiments are there. We just have to find our way as a state to get there,” Malloy said. “If we do, then ultimately we’ll begin the process of building confidence in our state for the first time in many years.”
Malloy spoke in a church converted to a performance hall, Trinity-on-Main.
He was introduced by Mayor Tim Stewart, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for state Senate in a special election held Feb. 22, six days after Malloy proposed a $1.5 billion tax increase to help erase a $3.3 billion deficit. Stewart opposed Malloy’s plan.
But Stewart has his own financial woes, and Malloy told the audience that his state budget plan avoids what other governors have done in New York and New Jersey: Hold the line on state taxes by passing the burden onto cities and towns.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is cutting local aid by $4.65 billion. In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie, praised in New Britain Tuesday by a woman waving a sign, has cut $3.6 billion in local aid over the past two years.
“In both states, that’s going to largely play out in property taxes,” Malloy said. “Here, you’re living in a place that has relatively high property taxes. How would our balancing the budget that way help this community, or for that matter any community in Connecticut? We are more dependent on property taxes than any other state in the nation.”
All night, Malloy face complaints and pleas from people who described themselves as unable to pay more.
“I actually believe this is the right framework. I know how difficult it is for you and your child in college,” Malloy said, addressing a single mother, a state employee facing tax increases and givebacks. “I know how difficult it is for me to face people like you.”
Bill Shortell of the International Association of Machinists told Malloy he’s made a good start, but his work is not finished.
“We’re grateful you’re not trying to balance the budget like Gov. Christie on the backs of poor and working people,” said Shortell, whose union represents workers at two local companies visited by Malloy, Black & Decker and Stanley Works. But he added, “The rich have gotten incredibly richer in the last decade.”
Shortell told Malloy he needs to raise the top income tax rates higher than the 6.7 percent in his proposal, then lower the rates for the middle class.
“If you take our money, it’s going to harm the economy,” Shortell said. “If you take their money, you can balance the budget and the economy will be better.”
“We’re doing that,” Malloy replied. “That’s what we’re doing.”
Malloy said his budget takes a tax structure with three income-tax brackets and expands it to eight, making the income tax more progressive.
Shortell told Malloy the new brackets were a good start.
“You’re the only one that has opened the door like that. We appreciate that,” Shortell said. “Keep going.”