Malloy's mixed and contentious legacy

The legacy achievements of Gov. Dannel Patrick Malloy are, like the man himself, contentious.

After eight years in office, Malloy on Wednesday will surrender executive power to his fellow Democrat, Ned Lamont.

The state Malloy passes to his successor still faces considerable challenges. A projected deficit of $1.7 billion looms for the first budget Lamont must prepare. Pension and debt obligations outstrip projected revenues. Yet, the outlook for Lamont is far better than the one Malloy faced.

In January 2011, when Malloy took office, Connecticut was still in recession. Now the economy is growing.

To keep the state going, the legislature had exhausted the Rainy Day Fund and borrowed $1 billion beyond that. The state Malloy inherited was broke. Lamont, conversely, inherits a Rainy Day Fund projected at $2.1 billion.

But while things are better, Malloy’s success on fiscal and economic policy is checkered, at best. The Connecticut business climate in terms of burdensome regulation, the high cost of operation and a poor transportation infrastructure improved little during the Malloy years.

His administration’s drive to create jobs by providing government incentives — be it through the First Five-plus program for corporations or Small Business Express grants — still left Connecticut lagging behind neighboring states. Even with recent job growth, Connecticut has only recovered 91.3 percent of the jobs lost in the Great Recession, according to Comptroller Kevin Lembo.

Malloy’s call for a massive investment in transportation improvements went largely ignored by the legislature. But in the closing days of his administration voters did approve a constitutional lockbox provision, intended to assure money collected for transportation needs — be it a gas tax or the implementation of tolls — will be used for that purpose.

And while Malloy, unlike his predecessors, insisted the legislature make the actuarially required payments to the pension system, and refinanced pension debt to make it more manageable, the problem of underfunded pension plans, particularly for teachers, persists. Malloy’s administration negotiated concessions, largely for newly hired workers, that in the long term will vastly improve the state’s ability to meet its pension obligations. Yet the burden of past lavish pensions will remain an anchor on state government for many years.

It is outside the areas of fiscal and economic policy where Malloy’s legacy of change is clearer but — as noted at the start of this editorial — also contentious.

Criminal justice reforms were transformative and, in our opinion, largely on target. Malloy, a former prosecutor, took the position that our state was putting too many people in prison for nonviolent crimes, not giving inmates the skills they needed to function once released from prison, and failing to address the substance abuse issues at the core of much criminal conduct.

During his time in office possession of small amounts of marijuana was decriminalized. More defendants were diverted to treatment programs. Eliminated were mandatory prison sentences for “school zone” drug possession violations, which disproportionately affected those living in urban centers. Prisoners now earn reduced time for entering programs aimed at lowering recidivism.

These changes will have a profound legacy. The prison population has dropped from 18,000 to 13,000 and the trend continues. But though crime is at a 50-year low, critics says Malloy pushed too far and his policies are putting criminals on the streets who should be locked up, to the detriment of public safety.

Also controversial were the gun safety reforms passed after the Dec. 14, 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that took 26 lives, including 20 children.

During Malloy’s tenure and at his urging, the legislature voted to ban all military-style assault weapons, large capacity magazines and bump stocks. Individuals subject to restraining orders must now surrender their firearms. Background checks are more expansive.

Applauded by our editorial board, the laws placed Connecticut as a leader in gun reform. Opponents, however, say they unfairly infringe on the Second Amendment rights of lawful gun owners.

No one can dismiss Malloy as a caretaker governor. He sought and achieved change. Whether they were good or bad changes individuals — and history — will judge.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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