NAUGATUCK — Compliments were scarce from area lawmakers for Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposed budget.
“I don’t believe enough cuts have been made,” state Rep. Rosa Rebimbas (R-Naugatuck) said.
Rebimbas was joined by state Sen. Joan Hartley (D-Naugatuck), state Rep. Len Greene (R-Beacon Falls) and state Rep. David Labriola (R-Naugatuck) at Jesse Camille’s Restaurant March 24 for the Naugatuck Chamber of Commerce’s 2011 legislative breakfast.
Each legislator briefly brought the audience up to speed on their individual activities in Hartford and reaffirmed their commitment to advocating for the chamber’s business-friendly legislative agenda.
After breakfast was finished though, it didn’t take long for talk of the state budget to dominate the conversation.
Ever since Malloy unveiled his proposed budget in February, much attention has been paid to his proposed tax increases, reportedly $1.5 billion in the first year of the budget.
Local legislators showed little favor for tax increases.
“For me, taxes are a last resort,” Rebimbas said.
Rebimbas felt there are other avenues that need to be pursued, like privatizing government services and selling state assets, before tax increases should be considered.
“We can’t let taxes be the ordinary way of doing business,” Rebimbas said.
The feeling that the state needs to explore other options, such as consolidation, privatization and selling assets, was a theme echoed throughout the breakfast by Rebimbas’ peers.
Rebimbas gave credit to Malloy for making a lot of tough decisions this year. But, she added, tough decisions aren’t always the best ones.
“Can we do this without breaking the backs of the middle class and taxpayers? Yes,” Labriola told the crowd.
Labriola, who said he doesn’t support Malloy’s budget, told the crowd that if the state rolled back spending to 2009 levels it could save $1 billion.
Labriola contended that Malloy’s budget does nothing to cut spending, but raises spending instead.
Reports, depending on the source, have varied on the impact of Malloy’s budget, with some pointing to an estimated $757 million in cuts and others showing a roughly 2.5 percent increase in spending.
Hartley said the differing reports stem from whether they include higher federal reimbursement rates.
Although Labriola staunchly opposed Malloy’s budget, he applauded the Governor for his stance on union concessions.
Malloy’s budget relies on negotiating $1 billion in concessions from state unions this year.
Labriola, who felt the state could survive if it laid off 5 percent of state employees, said Malloy is playing hard ball with unions, promising layoffs if there are no concessions.
“To his credit, I think he’s got the right approach there,” Labriola said.
Hartley said it is going to be difficult to get the full $1 billion in concessions.
“The culture (among unions) was we’ve already given,” Hartley said.
Malloy’s budget, Hartley said, depends on the $1 billion in cuts in order for cuts to be more than tax increases. She said the truth is the budget will have to include some tax increases.
“The reality is there’s going to be a tax package,” Hartley said.
As the budget process unfolds, Hartley said the state needs to prioritize cuts and taxes so as to not place Connecticut businesses at a disadvantage.
Greene offered one of the few compliments for Malloy’s budget by calling it an “honest budget,” free of gimmicks.
“At the same time, it really doesn’t change the way we do business in the state,” Greene continued.
Greene pointed to a proposed tax on nuclear power plants, which he said would mean over $300 million in new taxes for the Millstone Power Station. This new tax, he felt, would lead to job losses and ultimately the plant moving out of the state.
Greene said if the state doesn’t change its mentality, it will found itself with the same problems five years from now.
“We have to change the way we’re doing business in the state of Connecticut,” Greene said.