Taking on Christie, Malloy on center stage as Democratic spokesman on budget issues
HARTFORD -- After seven weeks in office, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has become the antithesis of his budget-cutting, union-busting Republican counterparts in New Jersey, Wisconsin and elsewhere.
He even heated up an interstate war on Wednesday with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who promised to attract Connecticut jobs that Christie expects to flee from Malloy's proposed tax hikes.
The plain-talking Christie is the hero of Republicans and others who say state budgets have become bloated at the expense of overburdened taxpayers. Malloy, on the other hand, is showing signs of emerging as the poster boy for those Democrats who advocate a mix of spending cuts, union concessions and tax increases.
Malloy fielded a volley of questions from four pundits following Christie's appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." He amplified a week of muted sniping with the New Jersey chief executive, saying Connecticut residents have made it a priority to protect social services.
And with solid Democratic majorities in the state Senate and House of Representatives, Malloy has support for his approach, even as he tries a less confrontational approach to achieving union concessions.
"If he's waiting for Connecticut jobs to move to New Jersey, he should not hold his breath," Malloy said to Capitol reporters Wednesday morning, about three hours after his MSNBC appearance.
He also criticized Christie's previous statements on the possibility of states declaring bankruptcy.
"That would destroy the municipal bond market," Malloy said. "It would disrupt our national economy."
Christie started the barb-trading by going after the tax hikes Malloy detailed in a budget address to the General Assembly last week.
"Let me tell you something, guess what, I'll be waiting at the border to take Connecticut's jobs when he does it," Christie said. "He still has to read the governor's owner's manual before he starts lecturing people. What's he been there for? About a month."
Malloy stood up for his approach about a half hour later.
"First of all, our taxes are lower than New Jersey, lower than New York, lower than Massachusetts and lower than Rhode Island," Malloy said. "We're lower than a lot of people. It's a reason a lot of people are moving to our state. ... We are open for business."
Currently, New Jersey's sales tax is 7 percent and its income tax rate is nearly 9 percent. Malloy's proposals would lift the 6 percent sales tax to 6.35 percent and create a multi-tier income tax rate that would top out at 6.7 percent for the wealthiest Connecticut residents.
Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said Wednesday that Malloy was filling a necessary slot for "balance" that even the more ideological cable outlets need in their debates on the fiscal crisis of state governments.
Sabato said Connecticut's proximity to New York-based media outlets is a plus for Malloy to present his platform. "He's certainly considered friendly to unions," Sabato said. "But all states are having their problems and everyone's got to get union concessions."
Though both states have voted Democratic in five straight presidential elections, Connecticut has taken a sharper turn to the left politically than New Jersey, Rose said.
"In many ways, I think both of them were reflecting the context of their states," Rose said. "While I think Chris Christie has more of a nationally acceptable message, Malloy on the other hand is accommodating many of the entrenched interests here in Connecticut, and he knows it."
Rose said he was fairly impressed with Malloy's performance on "Morning Joe."
"I thought Malloy came across as pretty combative and pretty substantive," Rose said. "He thinks well on his feet. He's a fighter, and it's evident in the way he presented himself. At the same time, I think Christie would get better marks for sound bites. ... Standing by the border, waiting for people to come in, that's pretty cool stuff."