OP-ED | Few Surprises in Election Year State of the State
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy delivered his State of the State address Thursday to a joint session of the General Assembly. He was supposed to deliver it Wednesday, except that a blizzard shut down the Capitol and forced the session to start a day late. Insert your own metaphor here.
First and foremost, this was an election year speech; the looming prospect of November permeated so much of what the governor had to say. Malloy started off by telling an inspiring tale of a Connecticut businessman who had begun rebuilding his business after the big blizzard last February, then promptly turned to blaming his predecessor for the storms the Malloy administration has had to weather. “Putting off hard decisions left our state with a deficit that was among the worst in the nation just three years ago,” Malloy said. “Bouncing from one economic development strategy to the next sent mixed messages to employers.” Somewhere you can hear Jodi Rell breathe a loud sigh.
Malloy was quick to tout his own accomplishments, and tried out lines we’re sure to see on the campaign trail this fall. “More than 40,000 new private sector jobs grown over the past three years,” is likely to be repeated, as is “An unemployment rate that has gone from a high of 9.4 percent in 2010, down to 7.4 percent today,” and, “Together we’ve turned a $3.6 billion deficit into a $500 million surplus.” You can barely hear the asterisk in the last one.
The governor extended yet another olive branch to educators with his plan to phase in a partial tax exemption for retired teachers’ pension payments. He also used the phrase “tax cuts” twice in this speech, which is two times more than he used it in all the previous State of the State addresses.
Secondly, this speech was all about the economy and jobs. The economy has been the top concern of Connecticut voters since the 2008 financial crash, especially as our state has begun to lag behind surrounding states in recovery. Malloy has taken lots of hits for the perception that the state is unfriendly to small business; one of the first things he did this time was highlight a small business success story. He also asked the legislature to continue business-friendly programs like the Small Business Express, and to reduce the number of “burdensome” regulations. For the reasons why he’s placing a stronger focus on jobs after five years of economic doldrums, see above.
Third, the speech was interesting for what it didn’t say. There was little offered about the governor’s controversial education reforms, for instance; most of the education portion of the speech focused on either the governor’s universal pre-k proposal or higher education instead. There was nothing about Newtown or gun control, save for a single reference to “our darkest day just over one year ago.” There was nothing said about transportation, despite construction on the CTFastrak busway ongoing less than a mile away. This was a focused speech.
It was also a relatively uncontroversial one. Malloy has not been one to shy away from controversy in these speeches: from calling for “shared sacrifice” in 2011 to blasting teacher tenure in 2012 to saying “more guns are not the answer” in the aftermath of Newtown in 2013, the governor has always looked the big issues in the face. This is not necessarily true this time around. Is there anything controversial, for instance, about universal pre-k? How about encouraging people to go back to college, or beefing up support for small businesses? The most controversial thing in the speech was the proposed raise in the minimum wage, something that’s already happened during his time as governor.
I saw a truck today with a sticker on the back saying “Welcome to the Un-Constitution State, Thanks to Dannel and Dickie B.” There’s a lot of anger out there directed at the governor and his policies, perhaps more so than at any point since the Weicker Administration. Gov. Malloy has clearly learned something about the people of the “Land of Steady Habits;” we hate it when someone rocks the boat too much. In part, the speech reflected that political reality.
But the theme running through the entire speech was one of resilience and persistence. Malloy’s speeches since day one have tended to be about stubbornly sticking it out through the bad spots, of weathering the storm, and showing up to fight the next day. This is the Malloy we’re likely to see on the campaign trail this fall.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.