Kicking off the new state legislative session on Jan. 4, Gov. Dannel Malloy wasted little time in his State of the State Address laying out his hopes for workable, bipartisan solutions to the state’s projected $1.5 billion deficit in the fiscal year beginning July 1.
The governor identified three major areas that he said must be addressed this legislative session to achieve a balanced biennium budget: Continued cost savings and efficiencies in state government; changes that will make the state pension and benefits more affordable; and the creation of “a more fair and equitable system for town aid, one that guarantees equal access to a quality education for all children.”
“The good news,” he said, “is that, for each of these three areas, positive change has already begun.”
Regarding state government, he said, nearly $850 million was cut to bring the current fiscal year in balance; the number of state agencies has been reduced 28 percent; the executive branch workforce was cut by 9.5 percent; the number of state management positions by 28 percent; and overtime costs by 14.5 percent, saving the state $37 million.
He also called upon legislators to make state employee benefits and pensions “more affordable” and to create a new formula for funding public education. (The administration recently announced $20 million in cuts to education cost-sharing grants throughout the state.)
Of the $5.1 billion distributed to municipalities, 81 percent ($4.1 billion) is educational funding, the governor said, noting that the figure does not include school construction financing, which accounts for approximately one quarter of Connecticut’s bonded debt.
“Of course Connecticut should be spending lots of money on local education,” Malloy said. “We all believe that investments in education are a down payment on our state’s future. Our budget must reflect those values.
“The question is, in a time of scarce state resources, are we spending this money in the best way possible?” he asked. “Are we ensuring that all students – regardless of the life circumstances into which they are born, regardless of what town or city they live in – can receive a quality public education?
“I’m asking for your partnership,” Malloy said. “I’m asking that we approach this session and this budget in a spirit of authentic, bipartisan collaboration.”
He added: “Cuts in specific areas, or outright eliminations, should not be taken to mean that certain work is not valued. It simply means that we can no longer afford to do it all, and that our spending must be focused on the very core, essential services for our residents.”
Malloy took a proverbial victory lap on his recent deal to keep Sikorsky Aircraft in Stratford, along with similar investments from United Technologies and Electric Boat over the past few years.
Following the speech, Connecticut Democratic Party Chairman Nick Balletto issued a statement applauding the Democratic governor, though he objected to the behavior of some Republican lawmakers.
“Despite Governor Malloy’s positive vision for the future of our state,” Balletto said, “I was shocked to see what seemed like the entire GOP caucus remain seated and refuse to applaud the governor’s call to continue our record of compassion by remaining a welcoming place for immigrants and refugees. It looks like Connecticut Republicans are truly taking their cues from Donald Trump.”
Although at press time neither the state Republican party nor its chairman J.R. Romano had issued an official statement, @CTGOP did tweet several remarks. “Malloy: The State of CT is being managed great… (Just ask the 26% who approve!” read one, while former Meriden Mayor Manny Santos tweeted: “Gov Malloy just said last few years’ budgets have been ‘responsible.’ #delusional or #irresponsible.”