STAMFORD -- With a politician, one can never tell if stumbles during speeches are honest slips of the tongue or part of a deliberately crafted script.

"Here's what happened to me," Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said as he took the podium at the University of Connecticut Stamford on Tuesday evening. "I got elected mayor -- I mean governor -- in November."

The audience laughed and Malloy looked up and smiled.

"You can call me mayor any day," he said.

It was one of many small details that Malloy dropped into his budget discussion with the Stamford public Tuesday to remind the hundreds of people in attendance he was one of them. The Stamford native and former mayor mentioned Colony Grill's hot oil pizza, told the crowd his late mother once belonged to the local teacher's union and was able to identify by name many of the people who stood in line to question him on the state's budget.

He knew many of the Stamford residents who attended the ninth of 17 town hall meetings scheduled statewide, but Malloy was as quick to defend his proposed biennial budget, covering fiscal years 2012 and 2013, as his interrogators were to criticize it.

"I'm not asking you for 20 percent of your salary," Malloy told a Stamford resident who identified herself as an elementary school teacher. "But let's be honest, state employees have some outstanding benefits. We're talking about the full array of pay, of longevity, of benefits. So there are things we need to do. We're in negotiations."

Malloy spent Tuesday's hour-long public meeting defending his proposed tax increases and requested concessions from state employee unions, as well as reassuring the audience the state's social safety net would remain intact.

The people who came before the microphone, which was manned by Mayor Michael Pavia, peppered Malloy with questions about vital services, yoga taxes, health care and boat taxes. In many cases, Malloy repeatedly stated his argument the state simply must reduce its $3 billion deficit.

One Stamford resident who volunteered for Malloy's campaign asked for reassurance the governor's budget wouldn't cut vital services for people like her 23-year-old daughter, who is severely disabled and attends day care every day.

"That program, I have to tell you, has not been cut," Malloy said. "Although it was on the list."

A yoga studio owner from Darien asked Malloy why the state's yoga studios would be taxed when other organizations that promote health and wellness would remain tax exempt.

"It's not a tax that you pay, it's a tax the consumer pays," Malloy answered. "We have a $3.3 billion deficit, we're looking to collect revenue."

Many people expressed concern to Malloy about his plan to split oversight of the state Board of Education and Services for the Blind into two different departments.

"We are not taking away any services offered by BESB," Malloy said. "We're just not, and I think people need to understand that. People don't like change. Simply because something was done one way, doesn't mean we can afford it today."

Several local politicians stood before the microphone. City Rep. John Zelinsky, D-11, suggested Malloy raise revenue by doubling motorists' fines for moving violations. Monique Thomas, who is running as an independent candidate in the April 12 special election for the General Assembly District 148 seat, asked Malloy to reduce taxes. And Stamford resident Phil Balestriere, who ran for the District 148 seat in November, told Malloy that taxes are driving the state's businesses to Pennsylvania.

"You've got to cut taxes, not raise taxes, so we can bring jobs here," Balestriere said. "So we can support our families."

Malloy replied again that he is constricted by Connecticut's huge deficit.

"I have not defended the spending habits that got us to this point," he said. "We made a lot of commitments. And in this budget there is precious little that we can legally cut at this point."

While several people made pointed criticisms of Malloy's budget, the event was overall a homecoming for the former mayor. During his 14-year tenure as head of Stamford government, Malloy held periodic "Mayor's night in" and "Mayor's night out" functions, during which he listened to questions and complaints from the city's residents. During his first public hearing with the Stamford public as governor, Malloy entered and left the auditorium to a standing ovation, applause and cheers from his constituents.