Malloy Forum In Stamford -- no tax hikes; can't hold everyone harmless from cuts

 Malloy Forum In Stamford -- no tax hikes; can't hold everyone harmless from cuts

Hartford Courant, February 12, 2016

By Christopher Keating

STAMFORD— In his first town hall meeting since outlining his budget, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy faced residents Thursday night who are worried about cuts to UConn, sluggish economic growth and funding for children. Malloy told the crowd that the state is facing a new paradigm of slow economic growth that is far different from economic recoveries in the past.

To combat that problem, Malloy has proposed nearly $600 million in spending cuts to balance the $20 billion annual state budget. "We're not going to raise taxes,'' Malloy said in his opening remarks, adding, "I can't hold everything in state government harmless'' from cuts. At one point during the back and forth, Malloy said, "Anybody here who wants their taxes raised raise your hand.'' Only two people in a standing-room-only crowd of more than 200 raised their hands.

When Malloy asked the same question about 30 minutes later, only one person raised her hand. Standing in a two-story auditorium at the UConn branch campus in Stamford, Malloy presided over a free-flowing forum that included questions from young and old, executives and college students. A 10-year-old girl, Sami Goldman of Old Greenwich, stepped to the microphone and asked Malloy about cuts to an agency called Kids in Crisis that raises money privately as well as accepting state funding to temporarily shelter children from troubled families.

Malloy responded that more children had been placed with families than in the past, "and that's why we made those reductions.'' He added: "We have better outcomes by placing children with a family member. … When I became governor, that's not what we were doing. … We're not in worse shape. We're in better shape.''

After the forum ended, Rep. Gail Lavielle, a Wilton Republican, said the state is in worse financial shape than it was six years ago because it still has deficits after the two largest tax increases in state history in 2011 and 2015. "Nothing has changed but the rhetoric,'' Lavielle said. "It's still either taxes or cuts – nothing to do with the state employee benefits.''

When a questioner said that both companies and individuals are leaving the state, Malloy responded that NBC Sports and other companies had moved to Stamford – adding that office vacancy rates had declined in Fairfield County. "I'm not nearly as negative as you are, and I'll say that in a state where 80,000 jobs have been created in the last five years,'' Malloy said.

Governor and Lt. Governor holding meetings back to top

In similar fashion to a tour in 2011, Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman will be traveling throughout the state to field questions from residents concerned about the $20 billion annual budget.

Over the years, Malloy said he has conducted about 50 town halls on everything from the budget to gun control. Wyman introduced Malloy as the person who has "more energy than anybody I have ever known in my entire life.''

"We are living in a different economic dynamic'' that started with the Great Recession, Malloy said. "This is much more like the recovery from the Great Depression,'' Malloy told the crowd. "It had an effect over the next three decades. … Hopefully, it will not go on for three decades, but it has gone on for a long time.''

Concerning the announced departure of General Electric Co. headquarters from Fairfield to Boston, Malloy said, "You're going to have some wins, and you're going to have some losses.'' Malloy, who served 14 years as mayor of Stamford, was welcomed back to his hometown by a crowd that included Democratic and Republican legislators.

"I'm an imperfect governor. I'm an imperfect messenger,'' Malloy said. "But I'm working really hard.'' At one point, he said, "I'm not pushing anything except reality.'' The crowd on Thursday night was different from a much smaller, invited crowd that Malloy met on Wednesday at a restaurant in Windsor.

That crowd often asked non confrontational questions on a variety of subjects. The topics were supposed to be economic growth and the state budget, but the questions sometimes ranged far afield in Windsor.

Christina Swaidan, a professor who lives in Windsor, told Malloy that she was not asking about the controversial budget. "I would like to thank you for your support of the Syrian refugees,'' Swaidan said. The next questioner, Dr. Halil Mutlu, added, "I'm a Turkish immigrant, and I would also like to thank you.'' Malloy then looked around the room and said, "Where are the TV cameras when we need them?'' Only three reporters and no television cameras attended the event in Windsor.