At the close of the 2011 legislative session it appeared nuance abandoned the Nutmeg State.
Connecticut had either just passed the most far reaching, anti-business, left leaning laws in its history. Or, it had enacted a rather progressive agenda that preserved programs while spreading the fiscal pain. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was either a business killing bully or the state’s savior. In short, it seemed to come down to party perspective.
“Malloy Gets What he Wants at Expense of Taxpayers and Their Employers,” according to the House Republicans website. “Historic,” according to the House Democrats.
Yet the session can’t be so starkly summarized, said state Rep. Paul Davis, a Democrat representing Milford, Orange, and West Haven in the 117th House District.
“First of all the governor is a very strong leader. He had goals and he moved to get them done. I don’t agree with all of them,” Davis said. “It’s the first time in 20 years [we have a] Democrat governor with Democrat legislature – [they] knew if they passed legislation it would be signed.”
Davis represents a fiscally conservative district and voted against the budget and the budget implementer.
To close the $3.65 billion deficit the Democrat majority passed a budget that includes $1.5 billion in new taxes. The General Assembly also voted to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, approve mandatory paid sick days for private employers, and permit early release for prisoners.
“This was a session of promises made and promises broken,” said House Republican Minority Leader Larry Cafero, who represents Norwalk in the 142nd House District.
“We took office knowing a few things,” Cafero said. “The state was in bad shape; really bad shape. An enormous task faced us. The other thing we knew is we had a new governor, a Democrat for the first time in 24 years. That being said…I say we all sincerely wished this man the best. He’s a bright energetic man. We all had high hopes for a new day.”
Those hopes were dashed after the governor released his proposed budget and refused to consider the Republican alternative, Cafero said.
Yet, CTVoices, a Hartford-based child advocacy group lauded the budget and process.
“And overall, the Governor’s commitment to a balanced approach to this revenue problem that included new revenues meant that most critical services for children and families were preserved,” said Mike Sullivan, communications director for CTVoices. “In many ways, preserving what we have and avoiding damage were incredibly important accomplishments of the session.”
In fact, the GA did pass several pieces of legislation with widespread support.
Most lawmakers agreed it was time for the $864 million UConn Health Center, the new airport authority, and the state’s first energy bill in decades. The Jobs Roundtable, Learn Here, Live Here got high marks from both sides of the aisle.
Still, the budget, together with a cornucopia of social legislation, led some to wonder whether the land of steady habits had gone of its rocker.
“Most of Fairfield County tends to be fiscally conservative. But the Hartford delegation tends to be more liberal,” said state Rep. Terrie Wood, a Republican representing Norwalk in the 141st House District. “They are socialists – they want to cover everything for everybody - and that too me is not democracy. Most people want common sense and that is lacking.”
State Rep. Larry Miller, a Republican representing Shelton and Stratford in the 122nd House District, also took issue with the some legislation.
“I was a little disappointed with some of the liberal bills we passed such as the transgender bill,” Miller said. “Only a week later a transgender person molested a kid in a bathroom in Stamford. The only thing we [Republicans] wanted was to keep transgenders out of bathrooms, shower rooms, and lockers.”
For the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, common sense decamped when the paid sick leave bill was passed. To CBIA, the mandate screams at businesses to stay away.
Davis, who voted against the paid sick leave bill, said he was also concerned about the “Amazon” tax. That turned Amazon off to Connecticut.
“Many constituents opposed it and said they don’t think anyone is listening to their concerns,” Davis said. “But on the other hand it’s counter-productive to call everything anti-business. In some ways it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.”
As legislators report back to their districts for the meet and greet season, a question mark hangs over the union concession deal. The Administration said it would save $700 million in FY 2012 and $900 million in FY 2013.
The Office of Fiscal Analysis hasn’t yet confirmed the savings. Because the budget hinges on those savings, the GOP, and some Democrats, wanted the deal certified before signing off on the bill.
“I’m just not 100 percent certain that all the concessions will result in the desired savings,” Davis said.
To get the savings, Malloy reached a deal with the unions for a four-year, no-layoff guarantee regardless of the economy, no less than a 9.3 percent pay raise during the next five years, and continued longevity payments.
Legislators are expected back this autumn to discuss jobs. That’s particularly important given the state’s unemployment rate remains at 9.1 percent unemployment, Davis said.
“We need to think about what kind of business and manufacturing Connecticut can excel in,” he said.
And so the session closed with a Quinnipiac University polls showing . Of those polled, 44 percent said they disapproved of Malloy’s performance. Much of this is because of the new taxes, and leads one party warning of a widespread voter grudge toward Malloy while the other party says voters will learn to admire the governor’s leadership style.
Miller is one legislator subscribing to the grudge theory.
“He’s a charming guy, witty and smart,” Miller said. “But it’s his way or the highway.”