Malloy Makes His Budget Case; Residents Push Back

 Malloy Makes His Budget Case; Residents Push Back

Hartford Courant, February 25, 2016

By Dan Haar

NEW HAVEN — When a private company decides it needs to cut its employees by, say, 5 percent, the unfortunate deed is done quickly, the CEO takes heat for not cutting his salary, and the business does more with less.

That happened Monday at Mass Mutual, which axed 360 jobs in Enfield and Springfield. The scene Tuesday night at Wilbur Cross High School stood in sharp contrast, as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy listened to a dozen critics of his plan to balance the state budget by cutting 5.75 percent from general government spending requests to fill a $560 million budget hole.

Why can't the state act more like a private company, paring spending when revenues fall short and imposing systems to fill in the gaps? A lot of smart minds are asking that question these days. The answer is, partly, that government can't easily order employees to work longer hours or decide to stop offering an unprofitable service, like an insurance company can. For the state, making such abrupt changes is all the more difficult because, unlike a private firm, it could hurt its own balance sheet by laying off workers, who then don't pay taxes.

Tuesday's stop on the budget tour showed how challenging the task will be. Kim Rice, a New Haven resident and state-employed social worker in Bridgeport, told Malloy she worked hard for his re-election "because I truly believed that you were the best man for the job."

She added, "I'm concerned because you appear to be abandoning your policies." Raise taxes on billionaires, she implored, echoing the battle cry of her union and others. "Please reconsider laying off those people who are on the front lines to provide those services." "Let me assure you, I am not abandoning my principles," Malloy said in response. But he added: "We may be at a breaking point."

Governor at New Haven high school back to top

Malloy, speaking in the packed atrium of a school whose mascot is the Governors, in a city that's as powerfully in his corner as any, explained tax rates in New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Back and forth he went with Rice, agreeing to disagree. One after another, residents came to the microphone, seeking more state services, more regulations — one very good idea was for an outright ban on glyphosate, the ingredient in the herbicide Roundup — and more targeted help.

Or, as with special education teacher Peter Wilson, they fought with Malloy over his support for charter schools. Even that was related to the budget, as Wilson's prescription was for more spending in the traditional schools. His voice cracking,

Malloy defended the search for alternatives, telling his own story as a student with dyslexia who was "thought to be mentally retarded as late as the fourth grade." Judy Atwood, a Shelton resident whose brother has been at the Southbury Training School for 39 years, said closing the facility would eliminate a cherished family choice. That's an issue layered with court orders as well as cost.

"All I'm saying is I'm trying to find the right balance," Malloy said. Time is running out for Malloy and lawmakers, who know very well there is no right balance and don't have the luxury of ordering cuts and moving on.