Could Mal­loy have done more for state’s econ­omy?

Many re­forms, but full turn­around never came

The News-Times (Sunday) - - Front Page - DAN HAAR

Around noon on Tues­day, Jan. 8, 2013, less than a month af­ter the Sandy Hook tragedy, I was on the phone with a Con­necti­cut firearms in­dus­try ex­ec­u­tive when a press re­lease from the gover­nor’s of­fice popped up on my email feed.

Gov. Dan­nel P. Mal­loy was an­nounc­ing his Sandy Hook Ad­vi­sory Com­mis­sion, a 16-mem­ber panel that would rec­om­mend changes in school safety, men­tal health and vi­o­lence pre­ven­tion. Emo­tions re­mained raw for Mal­loy, who had taken charge of that hor­rific scene on Dec. 14, telling par­ents their chil­dren were not com­ing home.

Who would sit on the com­mis­sion from the in­dus­try? The ex­ec­u­tive knew noth­ing of it.

The group, as I re­ported in a col­umn in The Hart­ford Courant, in­cluded pro­fes­sion­als from ed­u­ca­tion, pub­lic safety, crim­i­nal jus­tice, pol­i­tics and se­cu­rity — but not one per­son from the state’s his­toric gun man­u­fac­tur­ing busi­ness, or from firearms sales. The ex­ec­u­tive told me some­one from the in­dus­try would have gladly served.

It was not an over­sight. Mal­loy made no ef­fort to hide the slight, telling me at the time that a firearms ex­ec­u­tive, in bed with the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion,

would only try to block progress on gun con­trol.

To­day, as the 63-year-old Mal­loy spends his fi­nal week­end in of­fice af­ter eight years as gover­nor, his view of that mo­ment re­mains un­changed.

“No big player would have served on that com­mis­sion ex­cept to de­rail what was go­ing to be un­der­taken,” Mal­loy said in a late-De­cem­ber in­ter­view in his of­fice at the state Capi­tol in Hart­ford. “The NRA has a his­tory here ... quite frankly I didn’t think it made any sense.”

He added, “How do you think the fam­i­lies would have re­acted if we had the man­u­fac­turer of the guns that killed 20 chil­dren and other adults on a com­mis­sion ... and know­ing what those com­pa­nies’ pub­lic po­si­tions are, and know­ing that they’re fund­ing the NRA, who was fight­ing al­ready by that date tooth and nail any change, how do you think that would have made them feel?”

If Mal­loy’s lead­er­ship in the fire­house af­ter the mas­sacre stands as the ex­em­plary mo­ment of his ten­ure — and it does — the way he went about push­ing through the state’s land­mark, bi­par­ti­san gun con­trol leg­is­la­tion three months later per­fectly il­lus­trates how he gov­erned. Head­strong, with a clear idea of what he wanted; less will­ing to com­pro­mise than a typ­i­cal politi­cian; with a mas­ter­ful grasp of the is­sues, and an in­tense en­gage­ment that lent a moral force to much of what he did.

The big ques­tion is not how to de­scribe the former 14-year Stam­ford mayor’s style of man­age­ment and lead­er­ship; Rather, it is whether a soft­en­ing of his in­ten­sity might have led to dif­fer­ent re­sults, es­pe­cially in eco­nomic growth, the big dis­ap­point­ment that’s re­flected in his near-record low ap­proval rat­ings.

I asked, if he were bet­ter able to com­pro­mise, would things have been bet­ter for the econ­omy and for the way the state views his gov­er­nor­ship?

“That’s kind of like, okay, ‘when did you stop beat­ing your wife?’ ” Mal­loy an­swered.

His point: He com­pro­mised plenty, when it made sense. To en­act real changes, rather than go along, get along, he butted heads with state em­ploy­ees, teach­ers, may­ors and first se­lect­men, hos­pi­tal ad­min­is­tra­tors (in a big way), pack­age store own­ers, high-in­come earn­ers from his part of the state, hard­line law en­force­ment ad­vo­cates and, oh yes, gun man­u­fac­tur­ers.

“You’re say­ing ‘Well, couldn’t you have com­pro­mised your in­tegrity?’ And the an­swer is no.”

Ousted from the room

His point on in­tegrity doesn’t just cover crim­i­nal jus­tice and the law that fol­lowed his life-chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence at Sandy Hook. Take, for ex­am­ple, the pen­sion and health care li­a­bil­i­ties, which are un­der­funded by per­haps $60 bil­lion. Mal­loy will tell you that’s $40 bil­lion less short than it would have been if he’d done noth­ing in­stead of in­sist­ing on mak­ing full pay­ments into the funds — and rais­ing taxes to do so.

“Would a com­pro­mise be, to be like ev­ery other gover­nor and ig­nore it as well, or make it worse? That’s a com­pro­mise I was in­ca­pable of mak­ing.”

Mal­loy ended up with fewer Democrats fight­ing on his side than we’d ex­pect to see from an ac­tivist gover­nor in the ma­jor­ity party, a former long­time city mayor who fa­vors pub­lic in­vest­ments.

That was never more ev­i­dent than in the late sum­mer and fall of 2017, with a state bud­get months over­due and Mal­loy ousted from the ne­go­ti­a­tion room. He re­al­ized he could no longer be at the ta­ble, he said in the re­cent in­ter­view, the mo­ment the state Se­nate re­jected a bud­get he and fel­low Democrats had crafted, with three Democrats join­ing Repub­li­cans.

“In­stantly, when the bud­get went down I had no ex­pec­ta­tions of be­ing in the room af­ter that,” he said. “I don’t think any­thing was said for a while, but how could I be in the room when the Democrats re­al­ized they didn’t have to do what I wanted them to do, what they had ne­go­ti­ated with me?”

Did that bother him, not be­ing in the talks for his fi­nal 2-year bud­get? He’ll talk plenty about short­com­ings in the plan, such as the so-called volatil­ity cap, which re­quires tax col­lec­tions from cap­i­tal gains over a cer­tain amount to go straight into a rainy-day fund. “It’s inart­ful lan­guage that has con­se­quences that prob­a­bly were un­in­tended.”

But feel­ings about be­ing locked out of the room? “No I don’t have feel­ings about it.”

Huge re­forms, no growth

No one can deny Mal­loy got an enor­mous amount done, and just in case they try, he is­sued a 283-page ret­ro­spec­tive in De­cem­ber, as part of his last legacy lap.

“I’m leav­ing of­fice very proud of what my team has ac­com­plished and as I’ve said to a few peo­ple, I’d rather be com­ing in as gover­nor this Jan­uary than in Jan­uary of 2011,” he said.

That in­cludes a rainy­day fund of more than $2 bil­lion, up from a neg­a­tive $900 mil­lion when he ar­rived, if we count the amount of debt former Gov. M. Jodi Rell left him to pay for reg­u­lar state op­er­a­tions. It in­cludes two new tiers of state em­ploy­ees, each with lower ben­e­fits than the ones be­fore. It in­cludes a re­fi­nanced state em­ployee pen­sion fund.

And con­trary to pop­u­lar be­lief, it in­cludes more For­tune 500 com­pa­nies, not fewer; lower spend­ing on state agen­cies, not more; it in­cludes more bil­lion­aires, not fewer, though of course $1 bil­lion isn’t what it once was. And it in­cludes a bet­ter record of job-cre­ation than any Con­necti­cut gover­nor in the last 28 years, though the gains lag al­most all other states.

The former fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor en­acted sweep­ing re­forms and projects in trans­porta­tion, hous­ing, ed­u­ca­tion, crim­i­nal jus­tice, state work­force man­age­ment, pen­sions and, of course, vi­o­lence pre­ven­tion.

So, as we look back at the Mal­loy record, that odd­ity — he didn’t play as well in the sand­box as he might have, yet he en­acted big­ger re­forms in more ar­eas than any gover­nor in mem­ory — keeps lead­ing to that nag­ging ques­tion: Could Mal­loy have bent the curve on eco­nomic growth?

Here’s the harsh fact that will haunt Mal­loy’s legacy. From the four quar­ters end­ing at the start of 2011, when he took of­fice, to the four quar­ters end­ing last June — the lat­est fig­ures avail­able — the Con­necti­cut econ­omy shrank by 2.5 per­cent, ad­justed for in­fla­tion. In those same years, the na­tional econ­omy grew by 14 per­cent.

“I don’t think there’s some­thing that I could have done that would have changed that, but there may be,” he said. “Peo­ple don’t re­al­ize how ... dam­aged Con­necti­cut was in the Great Re­ces­sion be­cause of bad pol­icy that had been en­acted over a 20- or 30-year pe­riod of time be­fore the re­ces­sion, and a lack of in­vest­ment in things like in­fra­struc­ture.”

This past year was a good one for the state’s econ­omy, the best since 2007, rais­ing hopes.

Pol­icy, not per­son­al­ity

As Ned La­mont pre­pares to take the oath Wednes­day, many peo­ple are talk­ing about his col­lab­o­ra­tive, eas­ier-go­ing style as a way to win over com­pa­nies and reach com­pro­mises at the Capi­tol. Makes sense on some lev­els.

Does that mat­ter to the econ­omy? If the an­swer is no, Mal­loy couldn’t have brought more growth, then his style is just a cu­ri­ous quirk in the eyes of his­tory.

Roy Oc­chiogrosso, the po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant who had more to do with Mal­loy’s elec­tion than any­one, points to money Mal­loy had to spend to right the pen­sions, and taxes he had to raise to bal­ance a bud­get that was $3.6 bil­lion out of whack when he took of­fice.

“You’re talk­ing about bil­lions and bil­lions of dol­lars that he could have in­vested in grow­ing the econ­omy,” Oc­chiogrosso said. “What he has done is set up fu­ture gov­er­nors, start­ing with Gov. La­mont … to be able to make in­vest­ments that he was un­able to make.”

As for his style, Mal­loy’s former top aide said, “look at some of the deals that he was able to close in part be­cause of his per­son­al­ity.”

That in­cluded 20 large cor­po­rate in­cen­tives, which will for­ever be the sub­ject of de­bate.

A softer, more com­pro­mis­ing style might have made a small dif­fer­ence at best, said Joseph Bren­nan, who, as pres­i­dent of the Con­necti­cut Busi­ness and In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion and the group’s former chief lob­by­ist, often dis­agreed with Mal­loy, no­tably on tax in­creases.

“Would it have made a dif­fer­ence around the mar­gins? It might have, mak­ing peo­ple feel a lit­tle more com­fort­able in their po­si­tion as cor­po­rate lead­ers, if they had a dif­fer­ent re­la­tion­ship than they had, but over­all I don’t think it would be a huge change to our econ­omy.”

Bren­nan adds that he gets along fine with Mal­loy. And Mal­loy in­sists he had a work­ing, often cor­dial, re­la­tion­ship with many CEOs. He rat­tles off names: Cigna, Trav­el­ers, United Tech­nolo­gies, Siko­rsky, Elec­tric Boat, Com­cast/NBC Sports. Most re­ceived aid pack­ages to come here, or stay.

‘A po­lit­i­cal be­ing’

Mal­loy, in short, rec­og­nizes his rep­u­ta­tion but thinks it’s not a fac­tor in how the state has un­folded on his watch.

Even his re­la­tion­ship with Aetna’s Mark Ber­tolini, a critic of Con­necti­cut, wasn’t as bad as peo­ple think, Mal­loy said. “My first meet­ing with Ber­tolini he was scream­ing at me … I rep­re­sented Oba­macare to him and he didn’t like it.”

But he adds, “we got along.”

He con­cedes his in­fa­mous re­mark in 2012 about teach­ers — they just have to “show up for four years” and ten­ure is theirs — was “the wrong ver­biage,” but he points to re­forms that “made it un­ac­cept­able to ig­nore the cri­sis in the ur­ban and poor en­vi­ron­ments.”

“Hav­ing a grad­u­a­tion rate that was ... sub­stan­tially higher than we’ve ever had would not have come about with­out some tus­sle,” he said.

Look­ing ahead, as Mal­loy starts a gig teach­ing law at his alma mater, Bos­ton Col­lege, he said, “I will con­tinue to be a po­lit­i­cal be­ing” with­out any plans to work again in gov­ern­ment.

“I’m go­ing to ad­vo­cate on be­half of refugees, I’m go­ing to ad­vo­cate on be­half of gay, les­bian, trans­gen­der, queer in­di­vid­u­als, I’m go­ing to ad­vo­cate on be­half of good ed­u­ca­tional pol­icy ... .to stop throw­ing away a third of our chil­dren .. I’m happy to raise my voice, I just can’t guar­an­tee any­one will lis­ten.”

And look­ing back, he’s sat­is­fied he didn’t miss chances to change that one, nasty statis­tic.

“Sit­ting here to­day,” he said, “I do not know what I could have done to have Con­necti­cut’s econ­omy re­cover more rapidly.”

Dan Haar / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Gov. Dan­nel P. Mal­loy in his of­fice in Hart­ford late last month.

Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia file photo

Gover­nor Dan­nel P. Mal­loy, be­ing sworn in for his first term in of­fice on Jan. 5, 2011.

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