Gov. Dannel P. Malloy urged state lawmakers Wednesday, in his final State of the State address, to show the rest of the nation and the world that Connecticut is a "beacon of hope" to those "fighting on the right side of fairness," a message his Democratic supporters took as a rebuke of President Donald Trump and his policies.
Making only scant reference to Connecticut's continuing state budget challenges, Malloy instead called for expanded access to health care, affordable housing and the ballot box, as well as equitable pay for women, a ban on bump stocks for high-powered weapons and a higher minimum wage. He specifically proposed preserving key parts of the federal Affordable Care Act, including the individual health care mandate and no-cost contraception for women.
"Let us offer a beacon of hope to all these people fighting on the right side of fairness," said the Democrat, who is not seeking a third four-year term. "We can stop the tides of prejudice and hate from washing away our progress and drowning our ideals."
While Republican legislators questioned why Malloy didn't focus on the state's fiscal woes, Democratic Senate President Martin Looney of New Haven said it was appropriate that Malloy focused on Connecticut's differences with Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress. Malloy on Monday released his new $20.73 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. It includes a mix of highway tolls, spending cuts and a range of tax changes, including higher levies on cigarettes and gasoline, and a 25-cent-per-bottle deposit on wine and liquor.
"It's on everyone's mind these days. I think it was entirely appropriate for the governor to point that out," Looney said of Malloy's not-so-subtle criticism of the Republican president and Washington Republicans. He noted how Malloy has teamed up with fellow Democratic governors in New York and New Jersey to challenge Trump on some of his policies.
"Connecticut has always led the way on so many social issues around the nation, whether it's marriage equality, whether it's minimum wage, whether it's paid sick days or others. And those are the values we have in the state of Connecticut," said Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff of Norwalk. "So Washington might be going in a completely different direction or off the rails, (but) Connecticut is continuing to move forward."
Malloy received some of his biggest applause on Wednesday when he called for "an honest reckoning" over sexual harassment in the workplace.
"There is an immediate need to change workplace culture — from small towns to Hollywood, from the mailroom to the boardroom, and from the jailhouse to the statehouse, all the way up to the White House," he said.
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano of North Haven said he was troubled that Malloy's speech was more about "I don't like Trump, I hate Trump" and not about how Connecticut has a reputation for imposing high taxes while "crushing the middle class" and cutting services to the most needy.
"Where's the fairness there," asked Fasano. "That's the stuff he should be talking about, not this hyperbole of generality of a political speech and a political spectrum. I don't think that's what Connecticut wanted to hear."
Fasano said residents need to know how the deficit will be fixed and how the economy can be improved. Malloy's budget still leaves projected deficits of $1.3 billion, $1.4 billion and nearly $1.5 billion in fiscal years 2020, 2021 and 2022, respectively.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides of Derby said she agrees some of the individual issues Malloy brought up in his speech, such as pay equity for women, are important ones and are things Democrats and Republicans have been working on. But she said focusing on Trump and his policies is a way to divert attention from the major fiscal issues still facing Connecticut and the Democrats' failure to solve them.
"In a state that is drowning in debt, drowning in borrowing, drowning in taxes, structural problems that we've never seen in our lifetimes," she said, "the fact that he didn't bring up the economy once speaks volumes."
This year's regular legislative session ends on May 9.
To see the full text of the speech, click here.