In tax debate, Fairfield County hopes Malloy remains an ally
Published 11:39 am, Sunday, January 9, 2011
As Stamford's 14-year mayor, Dannel P. Malloy used to complain that Hartford too often turned to the wealthy Gold Coast to pick up the state's tab. Now, Fairfield County lawmakers are counting on the new Democratic governor to stick to his views as he ponders the right mix of tax hikes and spending cuts to plug the state's $3.5 billion budget gap.
"I know for a fact the governor gets it," said state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, who in past legislative sessions joined Republicans in opposing income tax increases proposed by the General Assembly's Democratic leaders. "He understands some of the votes we've taken over the last few years and has been sympathetic towards that."
Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, who has also bucked her party on taxes, said Malloy "has got a unique position, being from this area and having run a large city. I do expect him to be more sympathetic and understanding to southern Connecticut, understanding there's an economic engine here and we do need to be competitive with our surrounding states. "
But others, like state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton are skeptical.
"He has lived it. He knows how much Fairfield County has been asked to contribute," Boucher said. But, she said, the Democratically allied state employee unions wield a lot of power in Hartford, and Malloy received their support during the election. The unions are expected to push to protect workers from pay and benefits cuts, thus increasing the pressure for tax hikes.
Malloy has sent a variety of signals over the years regarding tax policy as it impacts the region.
In 2004 he referred to Republican President George W. Bush's tax cuts as "top heavy" and favoring the wealthy.
"That was not a middle-class tax cut," he said.
But when other Democrats in Connecticut and nationwide were criticizing the move, Gov.-elect Malloy in December praised Democratic President Barack Obama's compromise plan for an across-the-board extension of the Bush-era cuts.
In a 2008 Malloy complained that Stamford was punished by the Legislature after the city's mostly Democratic delegation blocked income tax increases for households earning $250,000 and over.
"The Democratic leaders took a walk on Stamford. Not my Democrats," Malloy said at the time. "They did a very brave thing in Hartford. I wouldn't have told them to do anything differently."
And in 2009 Malloy said there was a need for "a progressive (income tax) rate adjustment" but again was wary of beginning with households making $250,000.
Rep. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, is cautiously optimistic about Malloy's applying his understanding of southwestern Connecticut's economy and cost of living to his budget. But, Hwang added, "This job of being a governor makes people do very funny things."
Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, believes as a former mayor Malloy "appreciates the negative economic development impact of raising taxes."
He hopes Malloy feels pressured by the recent no-new-taxes position adopted by a fellow Democrat, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Asked last week about Cuomo's position, Malloy said, "We need to keep a substantial competitive advantage" with neighboring states, but added there are other high-cost areas that could be targeted in Connecticut such as health care and energy prices.
"He's (Cuomo) got his fish to fry, I've got mine," Malloy said.
And when asked whether his state budget might reflect his Fairfield County roots, Malloy called it "a fair question." But rather than talking about taxes, he said the region has too often been shortchanged in capital investments like transportation improvements for the amount of money it sends to Hartford.
Rep. John Hetherington, R-New Canaan, said Malloy will likely attempt to use the good will he has in southern Connecticut to convince the region to back tax increases coupled with tough spending cuts.
"I think he believes he can probably sell it in Fairfield County and it's logical he would think that," Hetherington said.
Two Stamford legislators who in the past have fought tax increases said with Malloy calling the shots they might be more amenable.
Rep. Livvy Floren, R-Greenwich, who also represents a portion of Stamford, thinks highly of the former mayor, as well as the man he tapped for state budget czar -- Ben Barnes, a former member of Malloy's mayoral administration.
Floren said she is open to supporting tax increases on the wealthy as long as Malloy's budget spreads the pain and prioritizes serious cuts and consolidations and boosts the state's economy.
"I think he's been balanced and fair and will try hard to do what he says -- shared sacrifice, which doesn't mean you always whack your financial piñata," Floren said. "I'm really optimistic."
And Rep. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, said since Mayor Malloy supported the city's legislative delegation when it bucked Democratic leaders, they need to be there as Gov. Malloy wrestles with the state deficit.
"When we told Dan what we were planning to do, he understood it," Leone recalled. "We're going to have to be supportive of him from a leadership perspective ... He's going to have the sensitivity to the region we've all felt has been lacking for years (but) he's definitely going to rule with the whole state in mind."
Staff Writer Brian Lockhart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org