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Stratford - As the Aug. 12 Republican primary nears, gubernatorial candidates' criticisms of each others' plans to tackle spending, taxes and jobs are heating up.
"All I've heard, to be fair to the ambassador (Tom Foley), is that because of his business experience, he can just simply make things grow less and somehow without touching state employee health care, without touching Medicaid, he is going to get lower spending in health care," said gubernatorial candidate, state Sen. John McKinney, R-Fairfield. "Those are empty, vague promises. Let's see his plan."
On Thursday, McKinney held a press conference in Stratford to explain a plan to eliminate the state income tax for tax filers who earn less than $75,000. The plan would begin in fiscal year 2016-17 and reduce state revenues by $746 million. He also responded to questions about his opponent, gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley, who visited Sprague Tuesday to make an example of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's economic policies by highlighting Fusion Paperboard that recently announced it was closing. Foley was met by state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, who said the mill wasn't closing because of policies but rather because a global investment company that owned the boxboard company wanted to make a profit. The two got into a fiery debate, and Foley repeatedly said Osten and Malloy had "failed" and wasted taxpayers' money. The company received a $2 million loan from the state to upgrade its paper machine, and the state says it must pay the loan back with penalties.
McKinney said Foley's appearance in Sprague, where 140 people were about to be laid off ,was "disconcerting."
"We put a release out, but to show up without having done your homework, without knowing that Cathy Osten is a state senator and the first selectwoman, without talking to the company about why they made the decision … is just not something I would do. But you know Tom has run a campaign devoid of any specifics or ideas just empty promises, and I think we saw more of that in Sprague."
Foley said there wasn't any homework to do.
"One hundred and forty-five jobs are being eliminated in Sprague, and we know that to some extent it's related to the policies of Governor Malloy, so it's a policy failure by the governor and Sen. Osten, who is part of the legislature, so there wasn't anymore homework needed than that," Foley said.
Foley said he thought being interrupted by a public official when he was trying to make a statement was "rude" but that the event has attracted attention to what he was saying.
McKinney also criticized Foley's plan to hold spending flat and reduce taxes. He said Foley's plan would be "a blank piece of paper."
If elected, McKinney said his plan would first get rid of the projected $1.4 billion budget deficit for next year, fiscal year 2015-16. He said he and his staff have gotten "more than halfway there" by eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor, by not providing certain programs with funds for inflation as previous administrations have done and by flat-funding programs that don't require increases by law. He also proposed cutting the state's $12 million statewide marketing budget until "we have something to market" and restructuring state employees' health insurance benefits and pensions.
In the following year, fiscal year 2016-17, his plan calls for the elimination of the income tax for tax filers who earn less than $75,000. The income tax elimination would also apply to retirees whose Social Security or pensions are less than $75,000. He said he would make up the revenue loss by reducing nonunion management employees. McKinney said he did not pursue phasing out the income tax for everybody or exempting the first $75,000 for everybody because that would give a tax cut to everyone, even those earning millions.
"That is not the problem in Connecticut," McKinney said. "Those are not the people right now who have borne the brunt of the Malloy tax increase."
In 2011, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed into law a tax increase of about $1.5 billion annually.
Foley's spokesman Chris Cooper said in a press release Thursday that McKinney's plan was "narrowly focused" and wouldn't boost the economy as a broad-based tax reduction, such as reducing the sales tax, would.
Foley said on Thursday that his tax reduction plan also included getting rid of any taxes and fees that cost more to collect than they were worth, sitting down with legislators to complete a comprehensive tax reform and getting rid of the $250 business entity tax for businesses with 50 employees or less.
McKinney's running mate Dave Walker, who served as the U.S. comptroller general for 10 years, said at the press conference Thursday that the state's financial condition is much worse than advertised.
"The truth is that the Connecticut government has grown too big, promised too much, and it's got to restructure, and in order to accomplish that, you have got to tell people the truth ... ." Walker said. "You cannot achieve tax relief in this state without real spending reductions."
Foley has proposed holding funding flat for two years while McKinney has proposed spending cuts. The Democrat-controller General Assembly passed and Malloy signed into law a $19 billion budget this year that is 2.5 percent larger than last year's budget. However, had they not taken federal Medicaid reimbursements off budget, the state's budget this year would be at least $22 billion.