June 26, 2014 10:07PM
By Susan Haigh
ROCKY HILL — The two Republican candidates for Connecticut governor faced off Thursday for the first time in a primary race forum, differing in approach to the 2011 wage and benefits deal reached with state employees and the state budget.
But Greenwich businessman Tom Foley, the Republican Party’s endorsed candidate, and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney agreed on numerous other issues. The long list included their shared opposition to highway tolls as a way to raise revenue, the implementation of Common Core education standards, and providing state subsidies to encourage large companies to stay in or move to Connecticut. Each said the state should fix the business climate rather than providing “corporate welfare.”
The Aug. 12 primary winner will face Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in the November general election.
Foley, the party’s 2010 nominee, recently told members of the Connecticut AFL-CIO labor organization that he would honor the deal Malloy reached with state employee unions in 2011. Foley said, “A deal is a deal.”
A four-year, no-layoff provision in the agreement is set to expire next year while provisions affecting state employee pensions and health care benefits won’t expire until 2022.
But McKinney said the agreement needs to be re-opened. He said the state’s health insurance plan is more expensive than the best available private plan.
“We need to get a control on our health care costs for our employees, and we don’t do that under the contract Governor Malloy has locked us into until 2022,” said McKinney, adding after the debate that he would try to persuade the state employee unions to renegotiate.
Foley said it would be irresponsible of a governor to attempt to break the deal. But he pointed out that some of the wage agreements will be expiring soon, giving the next governor an opportunity to try and cut costs. Foley also said state employees make up just one-third of the state budget and other areas of the budget should be targeted for reductions.
“There’s an awful lot of waste in government,” Foley said, adding that the state needs to focus on lowering the cost of delivering health care services, for example, by using its power in the marketplace.
If elected, Foley pledged to keep spending level for two years. He said that would eliminate the projected deficit for fiscal year 2016. The nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis has projected a $1.27 billion that year.
But McKinney said the state should reduce its net spending, given an estimated $893 million in federally mandated or state contractually obligated spending increases expected in fiscal year 2016. He said a net spending cut would also create some room for cutting taxes.
“We need to do more than just balance the budget,” McKinney said.
Thursday’s forum was sponsored by Associated Builders and Contractors Inc.
Malloy, who attended a similar event during the 2010 election, was invited but declined.