There are no simple answers in state government and a balance must be struck on multiple issues, Governor Dannel Malloy told several hundred attendees of a town hall meeting on Wednesday.
The event, held at , is one of 17 such forums Malloy is speaking at across the state. These meetings invite residents to voice their questions, concerns, and suggestions to the governor. Dr. Nicholas Fischer, superintendent of schools, said several students were attending the event.
“They are here to get a lesson in democracy, and I hope that lesson is how people can participate and take part in the democratic process,” said Fischer.
Malloy gave a 15-minute presentation on a proposed state budget. Malloy said he was faced with a $3.3 billion deficit and that the state could not “tax or cut” its way out of the problem. He said the budget would maintain services, including pension obligations and education funds, while increasing the revenue to the state. This would be accomplished by an increase in the sales and gasoline taxes.
The tax increases did not sit well with some residents, who said they would have a more deleterious effect on the middle and lower classes than the upper class. Noah Levine, owner of on Colman Street, secured a spot at the front of the long line to the microphone. Levine said car washes would lose a sales tax exemption under the budget, leading to “double taxation” due to a sales tax on the service being added to the sales tax he already pays on materials.
“I have several reasons why they should not,” he said. “In 1989, they did put a tax on car washes and it pushed several out of business.”
Malloy said he will be working to decrease energy costs and meeting with the Small Business Administration to discuss ways to have banks invest more in small businesses. He expressed caution on the idea of putting heavier taxes on wealthier residents, saying Connecticut needs to maintain a competitive advantage in comparison with other states.
“It’s a lot easier for [wealthy residents] to move,” said Malloy. “A lot of them have already moved. So what we need to do is find the right balance.”
Malloy said the evening’s input covered a range of opinions, from people who felt the state was not going far enough with the budget to people who thought it was too burdensome to requests to maintain funding for certain areas. In addition, Malloy noted complaints he has heard about congestion on I-95 and the need to better fund the transportation infrastructure as a way of bolstering business.
“If we operate our transportation budget at a deficit, we won’t be able to maintain 95 as it currently is,” he said.
Steve Smith, a physician at the , advocated containing health care costs in the state. He said ensuring quality health care with an initial investment will lead to major savings down the road.
Malloy replied that he has been corresponding with Governor Deval Patrick in Massachusetts and Governor Gary R. Herbert in Utah about their states’ health care reform practices. He also agreed with one resident that housing with on-site services provides an innovation that will save the state money.
Several sections of the audience were populated by people representing a certain group. These included the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. Several Montville municipal officials and residents appeared to protest a sex offender residential facility set to be built in the town.
“It would be absolutely glorious if the governor said he was going to cut the funding and we’re not going to have this in Montville,” said Montville Councilor Donna Jacobson before the meeting. “It would save the city $4 million.”
Ellen Hillman, deputy chairman of the Montville Town Council, asked Malloy for his opinion on the controversy and what he felt the increased costs of protection would be. Malloy said the facility had been approved before he took office, but that it is under review and that he “heard some things that caused me to wonder.”
“We need to balance the cost of incarceration in one type of facility or another with those legitimate safety concerns,” he said.
Malloy’s next town meeting is at 7 p.m. on March 8 at the Veterans Memorial Hall in Waterbury. He will appear at the Norwich City Hall at 7 p.m. the next day.