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Friendly Crowd Wants Malloy To Tax Business And The Rich

Christopher KEating

March 22, 2011

A largely friendly crowd of union members and Democrats came out Monday night to greet Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in Hartford a city that supported him by more than 7 to 1 in the election as he became the first Democratic governor in two decades.

They did not complain much at Malloy's town hall meeting about his plans to hike the state income tax, boost the sales tax, and impose a "luxury tax'' on high-end cars, jewelry and yachts that has prompted opposition in Fairfield County.

Instead, they called on Malloy to tax the rich, and they cheered the idea of increasing taxes on corporations.

After one speaker asked Malloy to close loopholes that favor the wealthy, Malloy said, "There are lots of things in this budget for you to be proud of, including the throwback rule.''

Related Story: Malloy Takes Listening Tour To Larger Rooms

The "throwback rule'' is a complicated tax that would raise corporate taxes by $40 million over the next two years and is strongly opposed by the 10,000-member Connecticut Business and Industry Association, the state's largest business lobby.

Several speakers said they had worked on Malloy's campaign last fall and others wore shirts that sported union affiliations.

The gathering of about 300 people was the eighth town hall meeting that Malloy has held as he travels throughout the state to explain his two-year, $40 billion budget that is designed to close a projected $3.3 billion deficit in the fiscal year that starts in July. Malloy will visit his hometown of Stamford Tuesday and then New Haven on Wednesday. He heads next Monday to Greenwich, who's legislators have expressed opposition to Malloy's proposed tax hikes.

Related Story: Malloy Picks Fairfield First Selectman To Lead Special Revenue

Several speakers pushed Malloy to implement SustiNet, a state-approved health plan that increases the number of those insured and which has been criticized by opponents as being too expensive.

Two sisters Wilda and Eva Bermudez of Hartford stepped to the microphone in the auditorium of the R.J. Kinsella Magnet School of the Performing Arts on Van Block Avenue and asked Malloy about health care. Malloy told the crowd that the SustiNet plan would be costly to implement when he is trying to close the budget deficit.

Saying that she had huge medical costs in the past, Wilda Bermudez said her plight would have been eased substantially had SustiNet been passed at that time.

"I think you're being a little shortsighted to just say we'll work with federal reform,'' said Bermudez, who said she holds a master's degree. "We do need to have you lead on this issue.''

"Again, I'm not against health care,'' Malloy responded after the crowd applauded for Bermudez. "Nothing could be further from the truth. But I've got a $3.3 billion deficit right now a deficit that in other quarters makes people pretty unhappy the way that we're trying to dig ourselves out of it. Revenue enhancement, which is otherwise taxes. Cuts to services and consolidations. I suspect by the time the night's over, we'll get some people who will complain about that as well. This is not whether we're for health care. We're for health care.''

Standing on the stage and facing the crowd, Malloy then asked Bermudez how much SustiNet would cost in the coming years.

"I don't think the question is about how much it will cost. It's about how much it will actually save,'' Bermudez responded.

After some back-and-forth between the two, Bermudez' sister stepped to the microphone and interrupted by saying, "If you don't have healthy constituents, then what's the point of fixing the deficit?''

The crowd broke into applause.

The auditorium was packed. Some citizens waiting outside could not get into the school right away because the capacity in the auditorium was 300 people. In a state where Malloy lost the majority of the communities in the election, he won big in Hartford by 15,753 votes to 2,043 for Republican Tom Foley.

Longtime Rep. Marie Kirkley-Bey, who was sitting in the front row, said that a larger venue should have been chosen to accommodate the crowd. The meeting was originally scheduled for the spacious Legislative Office Building, but it was later moved to the magnet school.

"How many can sit in 2C?'' Kirkley-Bey asked, referring to the largest hearing room at the Capitol complex.

"It's still being used by judiciary,'' responded Colleen Flanagan, Malloy's spokeswoman.

"This is way out of the way,'' Kirkley-Bey said, adding that buses do not travel near the school at night.

Malloy's senior adviser, Roy Occhiogrosso, who has attended all eight town hall meetings, said the administration consulted with the city of Hartford to choose the best spot for the session.

"We don't pick locations,'' he said.

In previous town hall meetings, Malloy has fielded scores of questions about his budget proposals, which include increasing about 50 different taxes. One of the least popular items based on the views in two polls is Malloy's plan to eliminate the maximum $500 property tax credit that largely benefits the middle class. A Quinnipiac University poll showed that 74 percent were against eliminating the credit, while 73 percent were against the elimination in a poll commissioned by the conservative-leaning Yankee Institute.

Most of the benefits go to the middle class as the maximum credit is available to couples making from $43,600 to about $100,000 a year. The credit starts to drop for those making more than $100,000, and it is completely eliminated for couples earning more than $192,000 annually.

Malloy, though, has told reporters that he is "pretty willing'' to push hard to eliminate the credit, which would generate $365 million for the state in the first year of his two-year budget.

While many adults are concerned about taxes, students attending recent public hearings at the state Capitol complex spoke against Malloy's proposed cuts in scholarships for students who live in Connecticut and attend private colleges like Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, and Goodwin College in East Hartford.

Courant Staff Writer Jon Lender contributed to this story.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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