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Malloy Reaches Out, Cautiously, To Business Community

Dan Haar

December 15, 2010

Time froze for an instant during Gov.-elect Dan Malloy's speech to business executives in Hartford Tuesday morning as he finished a dramatic setup line that would lead perfectly into a sop to the business community.

It would be a grand gesture by a self-described conciliator at the height of his powers, a fairly liberal Democrat at the cavernous monthly gathering of the fairly conservative MetroHartford Alliance, whose leader, Oz Griebel, had run for governor as a Republican.

Minutes earlier, Malloy had joked, "I think I'm the only person in this room that can truly say I'm glad Oz is not our governor." He would hug and laugh with Griebel on a day when the shimmering beacon of bipartisanship touched everyone.

Malloy had talked, of course, about the state's $3.5 billion budget deficit. "We are in a deeper trough than any of us have experienced in our lifetimes," he said, "because for a long time we refused to do what was necessary."

Now he was ready to make the move, to tell this audience what it wanted to hear, that state spending is out of control, that Connecticut's agencies need private sector-style reforms a sort of pre-inauguration olive branch.

"We have not done as a state that which we would require our own families to do," Malloy declared, and the audience readied for a homespun line about belt-tightening.

"We have not made the necessary investments."

Huh?

Malloy filled the crowded downtown Marriott ballroom with talk of building up education and transportation, with few specifics. The sop was not to be.

But give the man credit he pulled it off. Malloy knew his audience and on this day, a half-year ahead of the angry, partisan all-night sessions that many of us anticipate when the budget must become real, he knew he only had to show openness and the will to listen.

Just as an aside, he masterfully noted that he met with the Travelers brass and was set to meet Tuesday with United Technologies Corp. bosses the same ones who famously gave the "anyplace but Connecticut" line last winter.

"From this day forward, Connecticut is open for business again," Malloy proffered, again without a taxing-and-spending blueprint. "Lots of people say, 'Don't raise taxes,' but they also say, 'Don't cut services. We can't cut spending by $3.5 billion and we can't raise taxes by $3.5 billion."

Malloy then confirmed his support for Keynesian economics, that is, the notion that government must spend heavily in downturns to make up for business and consumer cutbacks, by borrowing. We will, he said "cut the size of government over a long period of time" through efficiency, benchmarking and all those other public virtues.

By several accounts, it worked. "The governor-elect set the tone and, understandably, not the specifics, in solving our problems," said Robert Patricelli, chairman and chief executive officer of Evolution Benefits in Avon.

Patricelli, an active Griebel supporter during the campaign, even said it was better that Malloy only tested the waters, rather than entering the business bastion with promises that could prove false. "You don't want him to get too far out," he said.

Griebel played the gracious host. The exact tax-and-service changes will be critical, he said, adding, "Our job is to work with him. Our job is to make him the greatest governor in the history of the state."

Many ideas will come from this group. Patricelli, an insurance man and a health care entrepreneur, is pushing for a federal-style deficit commission, a group above the fray that can point to solutions to the state's structural overspending, that moveable crisis that plugs up the political works.

"He's not going to get it done in this budget cycle," Patricelli said, but sooner rather than later, the governor needs to convene "the best people in the state."

For now, Patricelli observed as the crowd dispersed, "We're in a honeymoon."

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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