Groton - Gov. Dannel P. Malloy addressed the state's pension situation and spoke passionately about education reform, but one of his main messages during a speech Thursday at the Mystic Marriott came down to this: Hartford isn't going to ignore southeastern Connecticut anymore.
Speaking to about 300 people attending the annual Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut dinner, Malloy said he didn't understand why previous governors had largely ignored this region's economic development.
"Connecticut will not do well if this portion of the state is not doing well," Malloy said during a half-hour speech.
Malloy promised the assembled business leaders that the region will be a major beneficiary of a new multimillion-dollar annual tourism campaign being launched in April. He said eastern Connecticut has some of the state's most attractive features, including the shoreline, historical and cultural sites, the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos and the Mystic Aquarium.
"You are first and foremost in my mind when it comes to job growth," he said. "We're going to get it right. We're going to get this state moving again."
Malloy urged those in attendance to take advantage of several new state initiatives, including the so-called Small Business Express program that offers $100 million in loans and grants that can be acted on quickly.
"Gov. Malloy is not a pass-through governor," said Stephen M. Coan, president and chief executive of the foundation that operates Mystic Aquarium, in his introduction of the governor. "He wants this region to succeed as part of a renaissance of Connecticut."
Malloy praised Foxwoods, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this week, by pointing out that it has contributed $3.3 billion in tax revenues to the state. He vowed to treat state partners like the casinos better than other governors have in the past.
The governor also promised to take the lead in making sure education reforms are passed in the coming legislative session. The proposal includes a plan to overhaul the state's lowest-performing schools, mostly in urban areas, as well as the carrot-and-stick approach of tougher teacher evaluations and higher standards for tenure combined with larger salaries for those with exemplary records of success.
"We cannot tolerate throwing away children," Malloy said.
The governor also vowed to continue efforts and make sure the state follows through on fully funding its pension system. If his proposals are approved, he said, the largely broken system - worst in the country, according to Malloy - would be fully funded by 2032, saving the state some $5.8 billion that would otherwise be borne by "our children and grandchildren."
"We must pay our bills," he said. "We have to face up to our problems, and one of our biggest problems is pension reform."