- Associated Press - Thursday, February 6, 2014

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Gov. Dannel P. Malloy hasn’t announced his re-election plans yet but the revised $19 billion budget he unveiled Thursday, complete with tax rebates and more spending on early childhood education, was seen as a sign he’ll be a candidate in November.

During his annual State of the State address to a joint session of the General Assembly, Malloy urged the public to ignore the naysayers who discount the headway Connecticut has made since he first took office in 2010, touting a turnaround from a $3.5 billion deficit then to a projected $500 million surplus today.

“We hear plenty of critics now. Even as sunshine begins to break through the clouds, there are some intent on hoping for thunderstorms,” Malloy told lawmakers during the opening day session. “We should not listen. Connecticut is moving forward.”

Much of Malloy’s 43-minute address was dedicated to what he considers his administration’s accomplishments: private sector job growth, a lower unemployment rate, rising home values, and a lower crime rate, as well as a plan in place to bring less expensive and more reliable energy to the state.

“Together, we’re making positive changes, and seeing real progress” as Connecticut recovers from the economic recession, Malloy told members of the Democratic-controlled legislature.

Several of Malloy’s potential GOP opponents, who stood in the Hall of the House to watch the speech, questioned the governor’s optimism and chided him for trying to shore up his constituencies for a re-election bid.

“That was the ‘happy days are here again speech’ a couple years early,” said Greenwich businessman Tom Foley, a Republican candidate who narrowly lost to Malloy in 2010. “I’ve been traveling all around the state and I don’t think most people in Connecticut are as upbeat about how we’re doing economically as this governor is, or how well his programs are working.”

In recent days, Malloy has parceled out details of his one-year, revamped $19 billion budget, including a plan to use part of the projected $500 million surplus to provide taxpayers a refund for sales and motor fuels taxes. It would be $55 for eligible individuals and $110 for eligible joint tax filers.

Other Malloy proposals include exempting a portion of teachers’ pensions from the state’s personal income tax; increasing the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017; budgeting $14 million for 1,020 additional pre-kindergarten slots; expanding eligibility for an elderly renters’ rebate program; and requiring future budget surpluses to be dedicated to Rainy Day Fund, debt reduction and tax relief.

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, another announced GOP candidate, said it’s clear Malloy is “surgically trying to get the votes he needs to put together a winning coalition.”

“What you heard today was Christmas morning for many of those core constituency groups that he knows he’s lost faith and favor with,” Boughton said. “But it’s really not good public policy.”

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said Malloy’s address was “a complete reversal of everything he’s done for three years.”

“At the end of the day, we don’t have a budget surplus, we’re looking at budget deficits in the out-years,” McKinney said. “The money that will be left over this year is borrowed money. That money all needs to go to pay off our debts or put some in our Rainy Day Fund.”

Malloy’s supporters, however, were buoyed by his forceful address. He called for putting Connecticut on the path to providing universal pre-kindergarten and continuing efforts to grow jobs. He touted how the Small Business Express program, an initiative supported by Democrats and Republicans has helped to create or maintain 13,800 jobs.

He gave the example of Oxford Performance Materials in South Windsor, a biomedical company that received a state loan and hired 12 more workers.

“It’s been said that government doesn’t create jobs - and that’s true. But what government can do is give a company like Oxford a better chance to grow here in Connecticut, to succeed here in Connecticut,” Malloy said.

Senate President Donald Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, said Malloy set the right tone to set for the legislative session, which wraps up on May 7.

“He’s building on the successes that we’ve achieved in terms of programs for small business,” Williams said. “Between that and the governor’s commitment to universal pre-K, I think it’s an exciting start to our session.”

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