FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – Fairfield County lawmakers praised what they called a comprehensive and long overdue education reform package proposed Wednesday by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in his State of the State address.
But they also blasted him for a proposed $320 million state budget increase that would raise the new fiscal year’s expenditures to $20.3 billion and for economic proposals such as raising the minimum wage. They were also critical of Malloy for not making more cuts in spending.
In his annual address to the General Assembly, Malloy called for an “economic revival” and more than $300 million in sweeping education reforms – nearly half targeted to raise achievement levels in underperforming schools and districts.
Connecticut is finally headed in the right direction, Malloy said in his speech.
“We changed state government by making it smaller and leaner, while preserving the safety net – those services that define us as a compassionate and decent people,” Malloy told a joint session of the House and Senate in Hartford.
“We eliminated 22 separate state agencies, and today there are 2,700 fewer state employees than there were a year ago,” Malloy said. “That means we’ve reduced the number of state agencies by more than 25 percent, and the number of state employees by more than 6 percent. As a result, we’re saving Connecticut taxpayers billions and billions of dollars over the next 20 years. State government is now on a sustainable course.”
But state Rep. Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said although Malloy’s speech was “delivered beautifully and eloquently,” the “words are not enough to balance the budget."
The House minority leader said, “The words were wonderful, but here’s the problem. In the last year, taxes were raised to historic levels, and yet our tax pool is at its lowest level ever. Revenues are not coming in as anticipated, and savings we expected from union concessions are not coming in as projected.
"Our actuaries say only about half of the $1.6 billion we expected to save from those concessions over the next two years can be verified.”
Cafero said Malloy’s plan to raise the minimum wage from the current $8.25 per hour to $9 is a bad idea. “In good economic times, I don’t have any problem with that. But when times are tough like they are now, raising the minimum wage by nearly a dollar is going to hurt small businesses and actually force elimination of jobs.”
However, Cafero praised Malloy for his education reform proposals that include an end to teacher tenure based on longevity by creating a system that requires high performance in the classroom.
“For a Democratic governor to propose that is bold and courageous, and I told him that afterward,” said Cafero. “I applaud his vision and effort to carry out these long-needed education reforms."
State Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, who is a member of the legislature’s Education Committee, said she strongly supports Malloy’s education reform proposals. She called them “long overdue” but is concerned about how they will be funded.
“The governor has presented a comprehensive, intelligent and well planned-education reform package that deals with multiple aspects of the education system and brings them together,” said Lavielle. “It covers everything from preschool to college, and is just the kind of plan we need.
“But how can we pay for it? I feel like we’re all kids outside a candy store with no way to get in. We have a $145 million deficit at the moment, and I don’t see where the funding is going to come from.”