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Hartford - Hundreds of tea partiers marked tax day on Friday by gathering outside the state Capitol to rally against the governor's plans to raise taxes.
"Are we Connecticut or are we connectitax?" yelled Jen Ezzell of Lisbon, an organizer of the Second District Tea Party Patriots. "No more taxes. We have given them way too much money."
Law enforcement put the crowd's size at more than 700. While last year's tax day was marked by tea party rallies in three Connecticut cities, organizers this year invited all of the state's tea party groups to Hartford to show united discontent against Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and his package of tax increases totaling at least $1.5 billion.
Largely absent from view were actual tea bags - a common sight at earlier tea parties in the state and across the nation. In their place Friday were blue Styrofoam "Patriot Pitchforks," the handiwork of one fed-up taxpayer and small business owner from Coventry named Mike Sadlak.
"We're all going to be peasants if this guy keeps it up," Sadlak, 44, said of the governor, who was in New York at a regional planning conference. "I don't want to be a peasant, but boy, if they keep taxing us that's all we're going to have - our pitchforks."
The event included well over a dozen speakers, including talk radio host Dan Lovallo, Jack Fowler, publisher of National Review magazine, and Tom Scott, a former state senator and prominent conservative.
"This isn't a budget that's being proposed, this is a death notice for the economy of this state," Fowler said.
There was a strong anti-labor sentiment at the rally, particularly against public-sector unions.
Scott blamed state employee unions for much of Connecticut's fiscal mess, and he predicted that Malloy would "get rolled over by the public employee unions" and come up short in his efforts to extract $1 billion in labor savings from state workers.
A spokesman for Malloy issued the following response to criticisms aired at the rally: "We respect peoples' right to gather and say what's on their mind. There's no easy way to fix the mess."
Rally organizers invited about a dozen conservative state legislators to the gathering. Included in the roll call was state Rep. Christopher Coutu, R-Norwich, whose short speech was well received by the crowd.
"You represent the majority of Connecticut citizens who are sick and tired of being sick and tired," Coutu said.
The rally drew many veteran tea partiers such as Peggy Bushey and Kathy Blake, who said they also attended a half-dozen of Malloy's town hall meetings on the budget to express displeasure with his tax plan.
"You got [President] Obama in your right-hand pocket and him in your left-hand pocket, and there's nothing left for me," said Bushey, who lives in Killingworth.
Her friend Blake showed admiration for New Jersey's governor, who has gained a national following for his labor confrontations and fiscal conservatism. She held aloft a sign reading "I [heart] Chris Christie."
There were some freshmen tea partiers in the crowd. Duane Fox, 61, of Bolton, said the governor's tax proposals drew him out. Although it was Fox's first official tea party rally, he recalled attending an "Axe The Tax Rally" at the Capitol 30 years ago in protest of then-Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr.'s plan that created the income tax. He thinks the current governor's plan is almost as bad.
The New Haven-based Connecticut Voices for Children also responded to the rally cries for deep spending cuts. Rather than a "cuts-only budget approach," the organization called for a more progressive income tax, the closure of corporate tax loopholes and reducing the number of tax exemptions, credits and deductions.
"Relying only on cuts would hurt families just as their needs are rising and undermines our prospects for economic recovery," Joachim Hero, a senior fellow at the organization, said in a statement.