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The Connecticut Law Tribune - Malloy Talks Property Tax, Death Penalty

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09.12.2005. Category: General

Malloy Talks Property Tax, Death Penalty

Dan Levine
The Connecticut Law Tribune

Editor's Note: Law Tribune contributing writer Dan Levine recently interviewed Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy on his quest for the Democratic nomination for governor. This is an edited version of their conversation.

Connecticut Law Tribune: If you are elected governor and the Legislature puts a bill legalizing gay marriage on your desk, will you sign it?

Malloy: Yes.

CLT: No hesitation.

M: No .

CLT: On taxes, would you advocate for a raise in the upper brackets?

M: Recently, we've had a Republican presidential administration that has seen to it to give rich people very large tax breaks in comparison to others. And in Connecticut we have a group of people who are advocating taxing a group more than others. I believe in progressive taxation. If we need to raise revenue we should do it through that vehicle. But I believe it's bad public policy to tell the world you're going to pick on any one group.

CLT: Given the budget situations over the last few years, many people in government believe that you can't cut anymore. Do you think the current state of services is adequate, especially for the needier citizens of the state?

M: I believe that government should always be [on] a mission to become more efficient, and I believe there are efficiencies that can be created in Connecticut that will allow us to spend money in areas we deem appropriate. For instance, a state spending $500,000 a year to keep a 15-year-old child in jail is not a very efficient state. And I would venture to guess that $450,000 of that $500,000 could be spent on other things if we had a program in place that properly housed children. So do I believe Connecticut government is as efficient as it could be? The answer is no, I do not.

CLT: The way that the spending cap is structured and works right now, do you think that it's effective, and do you think it's working well?

M: I think the spending cap has been used by Republican governors to affect policies that they have wanted to affect. The Rowland administration was very good at pulling out the budget cap to defeat spending that it did not want to see take place. And just as this governor decided she could live with exceeding the spending cap to some number of millions of dollars but not to other millions of dollars. The spending cap in this state is highly political.

CLT: So what would you do about it?

M: I would depoliticize it, again in lots of different ways. I think there's a question in our state government in Connecticut we need to start asking a thousand times a day, and that is how what we do in the Legislature, in the conduct of state government, are we going to make this state more competitive? I think we've lost our edge when it comes to the world economy, and I would aim to restore that. That means holding the line on spending wherever possible. That means holding the line on tax increases wherever possible. And clearly creating efficiencies wherever possible.

CLT: Would you support exempting federal revenue from the spending cap?

M: Yes, in the case of Medicaid spending in particular. And in negotiating a new relationship between the state of Connecticut and the federal authorities on Medicaid. And understand that there are basically 50 different deals on Medicaid. Each state and Puerto Rico negotiated their deal. We had a Republican administration that sought to defeat additional Medicaid spending, and one of the tools they used was at times to decide that some revenue did count and some revenue didn't count. I think having a hard and fast rule probably makes sense.

CLT: Well the critics of that would say that once you exempt federal revenue, especially with Medicaid -- because we're talking hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars -- that essentially you open a whole new avenue of room on which you could tax. So I guess I'm wondering how would you jibe that with what you said about holding the line on taxes?

M: I guess I just reject the idea that one leads to the other. We don't have mandatory spending; we have optional spending. The cap has been used by governors of the past to accomplish their policy goals. That has led to great resentment and, I think in some cases, misunderstanding in the budgetary process. As governor of the state I would want to have an understanding with legislative leaders at the outset of the administration on how we're going to treat that. We can treat it in, or we can treat it out, but we can't treat it differently every year. Now, do I advocate leaving $200 million on the table in Washington when I know that we have over 160,000 more people uninsured this year than were uninsured 10 years ago? The answer is, no, I don't support that. But I believe that was a political decision which had philosophical overtones that was produced by the Rowland administration for its political goals.

Connecticut needs to end the policy of reimbursing nursing homes for Medicaid care at less than the cost of care. Period. To live in a state where 30 percent of the nursing homes are in bankruptcy and many have already closed, based on state policy of under-reimbursing, just doesn't make any sense. I want to be very strict, reimburse people for the cost of care. Audit it, have tough regulations, make on-site visits, do everything we need to establish what it costs and what you need to reimburse, but once you've established it don't reimburse less than the actual cost.

CLT: Switching gears, do you think that tolls are inevitable on I-95?

M: No, I don't think they're inevitable on I-95. I think the question is what we have to do is spend more money on improving our transportation system in this state. That's inevitable. Or we will lose more jobs. Once we've decided that we have what's close to a $6 billion shortfall in spending on transportation, then we have to decide how to pay for it. What has been lacking is the will to address this issue. And what the lack of will to address it has led to is the loss of jobs. If you take out a little job growth in Fairfield County and job growth as a result of the casinos, there's been no growth. The ranking of Connecticut in last place when it comes to job stagnation at the very least should be a wake-up call for all of us.

CLT: So are you opposed to using tolls as a way to pay for transportation improvements?

M: The idea of tolls as we once knew them in the state? No, we should never have tolls as we once knew then in the state.

CLT: You've been mayor in Stamford quite a while, and you've gotten a lot of credit for the direction your city has gone. In the capital city in Hartford -- that was under the stewardship of the state -- and we see a convention center opening. Do you think that is a direction worth continuing to pursue, or how would you manage organizations like CCEDA that are trying to do work in the city of Hartford?

M: There's been a lot of talk about how many pillars in the city of Hartford there are, and I think, ultimately, the pillars of the new Hartford are its people, and we need to be as concerned about the people who live in Hartford and work in Hartford as we are about the new infrastructure. So how people are educated, how they are protected by a police force, how they are taxed, how they're trained and what jobs are available are really the pillars of redeveloping Hartford, not an infrastructure. I'm concerned when a state will build infrastructure like Adriaen's Landing and not address a property tax bill in Hartford that acts to defeat most forms of new development unsubsidized.

Let me put it another way: The new development in Hartford is exempted from taxes and that's why it gets built, but in doing so we're ignoring the fact that property taxes are such a burden on most people and businesses in Hartford that most businesses who can opt out of Hartford. There's this disconnect in state policy that's got to be corrected.

CLT: What kind of property tax reform do you think is legislatively possible?

M: First of all, I don't think its possible in any one session. I think it's a goal to work towards over a period of time. Right now in the state of Connecticut forms of taxation other than property tax are exclusive to state government. In most other states that revenue base is shared to some extent with local governments, for instance local property taxes, local income tax allocation, utility allocation, those types of things. What I propose is not this dynamic that some people would want. What I would propose is that we work out a system that shares the growth in those revenue sources with local government. So the taxation forms that I just mentioned to you all grow over a period of time; rather than that growth being the exclusive province of state government, it should be shared.

CLT: You were a young prosecutor in New York. Death penalty?

M: I have come to conclude that the death penalty does not serve us well. That the delay is an open wound that is kept festering, the cost of the death penalty -- all of those factors take it well beyond any societal good that's accomplished. When you think of how many people in this country are on death row and expense is somewhere between $1 and 2 million per person ... There are 684 people in California at a bargain price of a million dollars an appeal. Having said that, I think that I am particularly worried as a former prosecutor when I read of how new evidence is demonstrating that people on death row currently or have already been executed or who have wrongly been executed -- that causes me great concern.

CLT: So if an abolition bill came to your desk ...

M: I would sign it. Well, I would sign it if it met other criteria -- for instance, life in prison without the possibility of parole. That would be the alternative that I would advocate.

CLT: Do you think Susan Bysiewicz dropped the dime on you to the prosecutors?

M: I ... uh ... I don't ... I don't know even how to respond to that question. I don't believe that's the case, no. I'm surprised at the question, taken aback by it. The reality is, no I don't believe that.

CLT: Was it satisfying for you when past financing reports came out that you were really only raising money for six weeks and you almost matched her?

M: I was very happy with what we did in a very short period of time. We raised about $230,000 in about six weeks time. And that was from a dead stop, a dead stop. That greatly exceeded what our expectations were.

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