Many Connecticut voters were given their first look at independent candidate Joe Visconti as he joined Gov. Dan Malloy (D) and Republican Tom Foley on the stage Thursday during a televised debate.
Visconti petitioned his way onto the ballot with signatures from 10,000 supporters, and during the debate said if he hadn’t been shut out of four debates so far he would likely have the support of 18 to 20 percent of voters in the polls. Visconti polls at 9 to 10 percent.
While Malloy and Foley continued taking shots at one another, Visconti hit his opponents hard throughout, eliciting raucous cheers from the gallery on several occasions. He criticized his opponents for failing to recognize the “tidal wave” of debt facing the state, citing a report from the state’s Office of Fiscal Analysis that projects a $4.7 billion deficit over the next three years.
He said that the state workers’ unions needed to come to the table with whoever is elected and restructure their contracts in order to help bridge the budget gap.
“In order to preserve pensions…we need your help,” Visconti said to the unions. “We’re not asking them for the whole apple, just a bite of the apple.”
Foley said that “a contract is a contract” and that there are other ways to bridge the coming budget gap that are “not on the backs of public employees.”
The governor disputed the report, saying that there would “not be a deficit in the next three years.” He pointed to a $520 million rainy day fund as evidence that his administration had put the state on the right track, saying that the fund had exactly zero dollars when he took office. Visconti immediately criticized Malloy for taking credit for that surplus. He said the state was in danger of having its credit downgraded.
“We borrowed the surplus!” Visconti said. “We borrowed operating dollars and bonded them. Fitch says we have a negative outlook…11 percent of the budget is debt service.”
Foley also took the governor to task for his fiscal policies. He accused the administration of “squandering” the money raised via his tax increase and outspending his predecessors by $3 billion.
“[Connecticut] has had 1 percent growth over 3.5 years,” Foley asserted. “You’ve broken the state.”
Visconti has made Malloy’s gun bill and education reform major themes since launching his campaign 18 months ago. Foley said that amending or repealing the legislation would not be a top priority because the governor doesn’t make the laws and it is incredibly unlikely that the Democratic majority in the state legislature would advance any bills seeking to change the law.
“My complaint is the bill has not made Connecticut any safer,” Foley said. “The task force has done nothing.”
Visconti said he would push for two amendments to the bill. The first would be to eliminate the magazine capacity restrictions and the second would be to change the definition of assault weapons. He said that gun owners should not be blamed for the Newtown tragedy and that they do more than enough, referencing background checks and firearm registration, to make sure they are following the letter of the law. He accused Malloy of politicizing the Newtown shooting and not allowing for due process by holding public hearings.
“Only criminals use weapons for offense,” Visconti said. “Legal gun owners deserve respect…they want their rights.”
Malloy complimented Visconti “for telling you what he thinks and what he would do” and agreed that a public hearing should have been held. He refutes Foley’s allegations that the state is not safer after the law’s passage.
“Crime has gone down,” Malloy said. “Homicides are down 32 percent. In Bridgeport, there are 22 percent less. For the first time in 100 years there are less than 100 homicides. We’ve stopped 200 people from illegal purchase….I would not sign anything to take this legislation away.”
During the debate Visconti said Common Core was a “piece of the problem” in regard to the state’s education but the more pressing issue was where education funding was going to come from with the tidal wave of deficits coming over the next three years.
“Where is the money tomorrow?” Visconti asked Malloy. “What will we cut out of education to fill the budget gap?”
Malloy, who does not believe there will be a deficit, said he would continue to increase funding, especially in the neediest districts, in order to build upon the successes of his administration. He says that graduation rates in underperforming districts are up, proving that his policies are working.
Foley disagreed with the governor, saying that the achievement gap in Connecticut “is the worst in the country.” His plan includes a “money follows the child” program, allowing parents to choose a school in their district to send their children.
“Spending on education is not spending, it is an investment in our future,” Foley said.
During their closing statements the candidates made their final pitch to the voters on this night and, for Visconti, it was his first.
“We need to reinvent the way the government does business,” he said. “Don’t believe the cynics.”