The chairs were turned backwards in Middletown's Common Council chambers for the visit of Governor Dannel Malloy for the most recent of his fifty-five town hall meetings he's held since he was elected.
Malloy's most recent set of town hall meetings got underway as he, and the state legislature, attempt to find a path toward reducing the 2016-2017 budget. A projected deficit forces the governor and lawmakers to negotiate $570 million in cuts.
Despite Malloy's intro, in which he promised a "transparent and bipartisan budget process," he had come from a day spent behind closed doors, public and press not invited, with members of both parties, trying to find reductions. Bipartisan process, maybe. Transparent, no.
In his intro, Malloy warned against the approaching "fiscal cliff" and the lack of new revenue.
"You can't spend money you don't have," he said, bemoaning the drop in state tax revenue. "We have to live within our means."
Malloy also noted that "not everything can be a priority," and that some programs and personnel were susceptible to cuts. He cited K-12 education, prison reform and economic development as priority elements.
When he began taking questions, the first to be chosen to query him was Pat Charles, Middletown school superintendent. She asked whether Middletown would continue to receive the annual $3.2 million in Alliance Grant funds, and whether Middletown would continue to be a district which would be considered to need that funding.
Charles followed-up by asking about cuts in Special Education funding.
Malloy was less sure that Special Ed funding would remain at the same level.
"There may be some competitive grants that do not stay at a constant level," he said.
While not specifically a Middletown issue, the legalization of recreational marijuana in the state has been proposed by Middletown state rep, Matt Lesser, and touted as the solution to social and penal issues by Middletown mayor Dan Drew.
Edward Wallner, wearing a Bernie Sanders tee, asked the governor if he would be in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana.
"I don't believe that's in our best interest," Malloy said. "We've decriminalized the use of marijuana, but we haven't legalized it. I don't believe in legalizing it."
Malloy also indicated that he had spoken with former Middletown resident, and current governor of Colorado John Hickenlooper, on the topic. Wallner had cited Colorado as a place where marijuana legalization had proven to be a good source of state tax revenue.
Hickenlooper opposed the legalization of marijuana in his state, but legislation passed despite his disapproval. Malloy said that Hickenlooper had indicated that legalization had not been the panacea that it was promised to be.
At the end of the meeting when asked what he thought of Malloy's stance on marijuana, Representative Lesser smiled.
"I'm shocked, shocked," Lesser said.
The last question of the evening came from Stephen Devoto (whom Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman repeatedly referred to as Stephen Denada), a Planning and Zoning commissioner in town, a Wesleyan biology professor, and an avid biker.
Devoto indicated that he had another transportation question just after Malloy had spent several minutes defending the need to build wider highways in Connecticut, and citing the New Jersey Turnpike as a success with its six lanes of traffic on each side of the highway.
"The faster you get out of New Jersey, the better," Malloy quipped.
Devoto then asked the governor how the grand plan for better transportation in Connecticut would be connected to Middletown, which is somewhat isolated from train lines and major highways.
Malloy joked again about Route 9, which runs through Middletown, but which includes a much maligned set of traffic lights, and then answered that indeed Middletown needed to be connected to the main routes of traffic through the states, indicating that bus routes might be the answer.
"We'll be expanding Fastrak service East of the river in a year's time," Malloy said. "No one would've thought we could do that."