Governor answers residents' questions at Milford forum this week

Governor Dannel P. Malloy fielded questions about medical benefits, Common Core education reforms and help for shoreline homes damaged during Hurricane Sandy, and more, during his 49th community forum, held in Milford Wednesday evening.

City Hall was packed with people who had questions for the governor, as well as local officials who listened to the exchange.

Resident Joseph Leto said he was in the Army and put in 30 years at GE and is looking forward to retirement. But with a small pension and Social Security, Leto doesn’t think he’ll be able to afford to stay in his hometown.

“How am I going to afford retirement in the State of Connecticut?” Leto asked.

Malloy told Leto that state officials are looking at increasing the availability of senior housing, and looking at programs to help seniors stay in their houses.

Acknowledging that property taxes become an issue for people on fixed incomes, the governor said he thinks the state is over-reliant on property taxes.

“I want to address that,” Malloy said, adding that there are various senior tax exemptions that Leto and others like him may look into.

“I’d like you to stay [in Connecticut]” Malloy said.

Leto said later that he was somewhat pleased with the governor’s response: Leto doesn’t’ think there’s an easy solution, and he doesn’t think changes will be made quickly enough for him to retire in Connecticut and maintain his lifestyle. But he was pleased the governor is aware of the issue, is trying to address it and that he received “a somewhat intelligent response” to his question.

A shoreline resident who came with questions about Storm Sandy relief and available government funding was told about two pots of money available for residents who still have to rebuild from the storm. The governor noted that funding initially earmarked for municipal infrastructure improvements following the storm was reallocated so it would be available for homeowners, after people complained.

“I heard from people like you, and they changed their position on that funding,” Malloy said.

“I’d like to see as many houses lifted out of the flood plain as possible,” the governor added.

A local small business owner questioned the planned minimum wage increase, which officials, including President Barack Obama, have been pushing in recent months.

The businessman said that if Connecticut raises its minimum wage to $10.10, that will put people like him who compete with out-of-state companies at a disadvantage because those companies have lower costs associated with doing business.

Malloy said he believes the minimum wage has to rise so people can support themselves, but he added that efforts have been focused regionally, with the hope that surrounding states would be increasing their minimum wages too.

The governor said the state is working toward funding its teacher pension fund, but won’t be putting budget surplus dollars into the account this year. “There are other pension funds in worse shape than yours,” the governor told a local teacher in response to her questions.

A group of people with traumatic brain injuries told the governor they are worried about changing benefits. But the governor said the state is looking to expand benefits for people with traumatic brain injuries, not reduce them. A spokesman for the group said changes to coverage are confusing and there are a lot of questions.

Another area resident raised the issue of Common Core standards, an initiative aimed at standardizing what students learn in school at any given grade and changing the way students are tested on their knowledge.

“The voice of the teachers has not really been heard on Common Core,” the resident said, urging the governor to hold a meeting in Hartford with teachers to get their feedback.

Malloy said there have been many discussions about Common Core and 44 states have adopted Common Core so far. He explained that the aim is to give students a deeper knowledge in areas they study.

He added that two national education organizations endorsed Common Core.

Malloy seemed especially moved by a woman who said she worries about the future of her daughter, who has autism, in terms of being taken care of by state adult service programs.

The governor noted that he had to overcome a disability to become successful: According to the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity website, Malloy was born with severe dyslexia and motor-control problems, and he was unable to walk steadily or to execute simple tasks like tying his shoes and buttoning his clothes as a child.

“As a young student, Malloy couldn't read, spell, or do mathematical problems. But his mother, a public-health nurse, didn't buy into the idea that her son was slow,” the website states. He worked to overcome his disability by developing other strengths.

The governor told the worried mother Wednesday evening that because of his own disability he takes her concerns, and others like them, “very seriously.”

“The state wants to find the right mix of programs,” he said.

There were also questions about gun control and veteran benefits, to which the governor offered his views.

Malloy was accompanied by Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman when he held the community meeting at Milford City Hall.

He started the meeting off by telling those in attendance that in the last three years, the private sector has grown more than 40,000 private sector jobs, the state’s long-term debt has been reduced by more than $11.5 billion, and the state budget went from a $3.6 billion deficit to a $500 million surplus.

“These are all signs of progress, however there is still more work to do,” Governor Malloy said.