Candidate profiles for Campaign 2014

The Observer asked each of the candidates for the city’s three house seats three questions of interest to Bristol residents. Candidates also were asked to provide brief biographies.

Dan Santorso
Democrat
78th District
How would you assess Connecticut’s fiscal health? Given that assessment, how should the General Assembly approach the state budget?
Connecticut’s fiscal health has some healing to do. Our deficit is formidable, but the good news is that it has been getting smaller. We should continue to reduce our debt by resisting new spending, by identifying and correcting wasteful programs, and by encouraging retirements and delaying replacements where appropriate.
The state’s reserve fund is depleted. In addition to continuing to shrink our deficit, we should expand the cap on the rainy day fund from 10 percent of spending to 15 percent , so we have a stronger buffer when times are hard in the future. We should also send all large one-time state revenues, such as lawsuit settlements directly to the fund so that there is no temptation to increase the budget in response to temporary revenue.
Our economic recovery has been slow, but I am confident it is improving. Gas prices seem likely to be down in the immediate future, so we may finally be looking at a natural economic stimulus. Connecticut needs to make sure our struggling working families and small businesses get breaks, and to not allow the biggest corporations and richest individuals constantly grease their own wheels. When money circulates among small businesses and working families, Bristol and Plymouth will feel relief and the state revenue will increase.

If elected, what is the number one issue you would like to address that would benefit the district you serve?
Our property tax system is broken. Plymouth and Bristol both would benefit if Connecticut (and the federal government) prioritize the local economy (via municipal assistance), so towns are not so dependent on property taxes. Schools and town services fight to maintain minimal levels of services while infrastructure weakens and roads deteriorate. Taxes are a major stress on small businesses and homeowners, which bring vitality to our communities. When our small businesses and working families experience success, the whole community will benefit.
Municipal aid, such as the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant, enables schools and towns more freedom to make necessary improvements. Early childhood education is one great example. Plymouth has settled into full-day kindergarten and Bristol was excited to embrace it very recently. If the programs put too much stress on property taxes, they risk being downsized. With continued assistance, it is possible to help our towns expand and improve our preschool options, without adding stress to property taxes. This would be ideal, because investments in early education can be extremely effective in improving a child’s future.

Infrastructure has emerged as a topic of discussion when addressing the issue of attracting new businesses in Connecticut. What are your views on the state’s current infrastructure and what role should the state legislature play in that area?
Infrastructure investments are deeply needed in Connecticut. They get neglected too often. In addition to the direct improvements to our roads and transportation, there are substantial economic benefits to getting the work done. It is too common for our state and local roads to be in disrepair. It is a battle to keep up with the wear that winter and traffic put on the roads, but the upkeep is absolutely necessary.

Raised in Terryville, Dan Santorso’s roots to Bristol go back for generations. Santorso has a degree in public administration and has worked in the state legislature. In Plymouth, Santorso has worked in the mayor’s office and has served on the Library Board and on the Board of Education, and was elected as constable.
Whit Betts
Republican
78th District
How would you assess Connecticut’s fiscal health? Given that assessment, how should the General Assembly approach the state budget?
Connecticut’s fiscal health is terrible. We are told that our state budget is projected to have a $3 billion deficit over the next two years, and that the state has billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities for pension and health care plans to state employees.
How is it possible that our state budget has this large a deficit after making Connecticut taxpayers pay nearly $2 billion in new and increased taxes and fees from 2010 to 2014 ?
Clearly the projected deficit for the next two years is not the fault of Connecticut taxpayers, but the responsibility for this financial mess lies with the folks who had 100 percent control over what financial decisions and policies were made since 2010— i.e. the Malloy administration and the Democrat-controlled legislature.
I believe the financial health of our state finances can be strengthened by spending no more money than what the state collects, and secondly we need to generate more jobs and revenue by making our state a top place in the nation in which to operate a business.

If elected, what is the number one issue you would like to address that would benefit the district you serve?
“Suspend” a few unfunded state mandates that could result in lower property taxes and lower costs to businesses.

Infrastructure has emerged as a topic of discussion when  addressing the issue of attracting news businesses in Connecticut. What are your views on the state’s current infrastructure and what role should the state legislature play in that area?
I believe the Department of Transportation should submit a 20 year Master Plan to improve roads and mass transportation in our state. The goal should be to reduce significantly the backlog of unsafe to poorly rated roads and bridges, and the installation of new train/bus systems and cars that will provide safe and faster times for Connecticut commuters.
The key element to upgrading our transportation infrastructure is to prohibit money being taken out of the Special Transportation Fund.
Biography
Whit Betts was elected to the General Assembly in November 2010 and represents the towns of Bristol, Terryville, and Plymouth. During the 2013 and 2015 legislative sessions, he served as Ranking Member of the Committee on Children and also served on the Appropriations, Transportation, and Public Health committees.
Betts is the sales manager at Green Acres farm in Bristol. He earned his bachelor of arts degree in education from Eisenhower College in 1973.a
Betts has been married to his wife, Jarre Barnes Betts for 40 years. They have two children, Amy and Drew Betts.
Betts has had the pleasure of serving in various capacities with many community organizations. He has served as a Board Member, both past and present, for the
Central Connecticut Chambers of Connecticut, Bristol Hospital, Bristol Hospital Development Foundation, Bristol Boys and Girls Club, First Congregational Church of Bristol, Parent and Child Center, Bristol City Council, and the Environmental Learning Centers of CT. He has also served as president of Bristol Rotary Club and chair of the Bristol Republican Town Committee.
Frank Nicastro
Democrat
79th District
How would you assess Connecticut’s fiscal health? Given that assessment, how should the General Assembly approach the state budget?
It has improved slightly, but we will face challenges in the upcoming years and we still have a way to go, especially when so many people are still without jobs. The General Assembly should be cautious about how much and why we bond to see if some things can be held off until we are in a better climate. As hard as it is to put projects on hold, sometimes it is necessary in order to regain fiscal stability and ease the burdens on taxpayers. The answer is definitely not further taxation. I voted against the 2011 state budget, which raised taxes and imposed many new taxes because I felt the burdens on taxpayers were too great.
If elected, what is the number one issue you would like to address that would benefit the district you serve?
As with most districts in our state, the concerns of people in Bristol/Forestville are universal concerns, such as jobs, economic development, taxes, and health care issues. We have to concentrate on improving our economy. We need to attract and keep businesses by encouraging the building of new factories and the expansion of existing businesses to create jobs.
Also, I would continue my efforts to have passenger rail service from Waterbury to Hartford through Bristol.
Infrastructure has emerged as a topic of discussion when addressing the issue of attracting new businesses in Connecticut. What are your views on the state’s current infrastructure and what role should the state legislature play in that area?
It is very clear that our highways and bridges need to be improved and repaired for public safety, convenience, and efficiency. We have many bridges that are in poor shape and require very costly repairs. Instead of spending $ 600 millions on a nine-mile busway, that money could have been used to repair our bridges and roads to encourage mass transit and to attract new businesses that would create new jobs, including construction jobs for the repair work itself. The legislature needs to see to it that there is sufficient funding made available for roads, bridges, and rail lines to provide greater accessibility for businesses and safer mobility of our workforce.
Biography
Born, raised and educated in Bristol, Frank Nicastro served six years in the U.S. Navy and 24 years in the Connecticut Army National Guard. He served for 17 years as truant officer in Bristol and 15 years on the State Juvenile Justice Commission. Nicastro also served 10 years as city councilman and 10 consecutive years as the mayor of Bristol. Besides serving at the local level, Nicastro served four terms as state representative for the 79th District. He has three children, six grandchildren, and one great grandchild.

Josh Levesque
Republican
79th District
How would you assess Connecticut’s fiscal health? Given that assessment, how should the General Assembly approach the state budget?
Connecticut’s fiscal health is poor at best. We continue to take out new debt to pay for old debt. We cannot continue to not fund the $66.4 billion dollars in future liabilities the state has. The state government continues to foolishly expend resources that we can no longer afford. A full review of the business of government needs to take place in Connecticut, which does not necessarily lead to cutting state jobs. Rather, we need to see where processes performed by the state government can be performed more cost effectively. Government waste needs to be greatly reduced if not completely quenched. We simply can’t afford it. The government needs to begin to invest in programs that have real tangible benefits for all of Connecticut, unlike the busway currently being constructed between Hartford and New Britain. The state needs to strengthen benefit eligibility standard to ensure that those who really need it are getting the benefit. The state government needs to work to improve the benefits distribution system to ensure that the right people are getting the benefit. The state needs to rebalance long term healthcare by providing home-based care when appropriate, shift more Medicaid recipients to high-quality community based programs, and increase the state’s fraud prevention and detection units.
The Connecticut General Assembly needs to come up with a more common sense-based budget. Spend no more than you take in, borrow only what can be paid back. We need to get rid of the programs that don’t work, fix those programs that can be fixed and be open to new ways of doing things, ways that could financially save the State of Connecticut.

If elected, what is the number one issue you would like to address that would benefit the district you serve?
The number one issue that I believe needs to be addressed is Connecticut’s economic condition…it’s on life support. We need to create a more business friendly environment and not continue to create an environment that pushes job, people and revenue for the state away from Connecticut. If we can create a more business friendly environment, we can help those organizations already in the district to expand their operations while attaching brand new ones that will open up new opportunities for those living in the 79th district. With greater investment from new businesses in the district, we can invest more in education and enhance the experience of our youth by providing them with the newest educational resources and techniques. With more businesses in the district, this could attract the developers and investment needed to kick start the beautification and enhancement of the West End and provide the capital and resources needed to get the Depot Square project up and running…without public funds

Infrastructure has emerged as a topic of discussion when addressing the issue of attracting new businesses in Connecticut. What are your views on the state’s current infrastructure and what role should the state legislature play in that area?
It is imperative that Connecticut enhance its current infrastructure. How can a thriving new business come into Connecticut if it cannot efficiently and effectively get its product into the hands of consumers? Simply, it can’t. The state legislature needs to empower and fund the Department of Transportation to maintain and enhance our present infrastructure but also look for new means of travel for Connecticut citizens such as broadening the Metro-North/Amtrak network into other cities like Bristol that can quicken the commute into Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport and even Boston and New York. We need to stop investing funds into nonsensical projects such as the infamous busway between Hartford and New Britain. We need to be smart with what we invest in especially when it comes to infrastructure so we know we are making sound investments that will actually create a benefit for Connecticut’s citizens and business and make us more attractive to outsiders.
Besides roadways, train tracks and buses infrastructure includes the technology that state employs each day. We need to make investments to ensure that our schools and government entities are not using antiquated processes and technology to educate and provide services to our state. We are the most technically advanced culture to ever be on earth. We need to start using that to better how we educate our child and how the State performs government day in and day out.

Born and raised in Bristol, Josh Levesque is a third generation “Bristolite.” He graduated from Bristol Central High School and briefly went to Catholic seminary. Once Levesque left the seminary, he entered the field of banking and now the healthcare industries. Currently, he serves on the Parks and Recreation Board in Bristol.

Chris Wright
Democrat
77th District
How would you assess Connecticut’s fiscal health? Given that assessment, how should the General Assembly approach the state budget?
Connecticut’s fiscal health is not great, but it is better now than it was four years ago. In the past few years, we have seen substantial gains in the private sector with more people being employed and a slow but steady expansion of our economy. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, we saw the first surplus in the state budget in years, and the budget this year is projected to be balanced with perhaps a slight surplus. In addition, as a result of the restructuring of state employee post-retirement benefits negotiated by Gov. Dannel Malloy in 2011, we have seen a reduction in the state’s projected long-term obligations by several billion dollars. Our state’s fiscal health is better now than it has been in a number of years, but with a possible deficit projected in the next state budget, more needs to be done. We need to continue to grow our economy by working with businesses of all sizes by making Connecticut a better place to do business. As the leader of the Moderate Democratic Caucus in the House, I have been a strong voice for holding the line on state spending. In 2011, I co-authored a letter on behalf of the group outlining over $600 million in specific cuts we believed could be made to that two year budget, including such suggestions as having a 10 to 1 ratio of state workers to supervisors among others. I have not been afraid to vote no on the budget when I felt it was too large and will continue to work for its reduction through specific cuts and not just broad, vague campaign slogans.

If elected, what is the number one issue you would like to address that would benefit the district you serve?
The number one issue that I plan to work on is improving the state economy. In the last few years, the legislature and the governor, working together, have created such initiatives such as Step-Up, the Small Business Express, and First Five, which created incentives for businesses of all sizes to locate and to expand in Connecticut. This year, at the request of the manufacturing community, we created a program that helps pay for the cost of apprenticeship programs for new hires. In addition, we passed legislation this year which eliminated over 900 pages of outdated or duplicate regulations that the state has imposed on businesses. While this is a start, much more needs to be done. I will continue to work with organizations like the Connecticut Business & Industry Association (CBIA) and the Chamber of Commerce to make Connecticut more business friendly.

Infrastructure has emerged as a topic of discussion when addressing the issue of attracting new businesses in Connecticut. What are your views on the state’s current infrastructure and what role should the state legislature play in that area?
I believe that the funds raised in Connecticut for transportation should be spent on transportation. In fact, this year I voted for a bill in the Finance Committee that would have created an amendment to the state Constitution requiring just that. Unfortunately, it was late in the session so the bill ran out of time before it could be approved by the full legislature, but I will continue to support this concept. Safe, dependable transportation is a necessity for both the residents and businesses in Connecticut, and I will fight to make sure that our roads and bridges get the maintenance they require.

Biography
Christopher Wright is currently serving his third term in the State House of Representatives where he is a member of the Finance, Insurance and Housing Committees. He is a 1991 graduate of Central Connecticut State University with a degree in economics, and currently works in the emergency room at St. Francis Hospital.
Cara Pavalock
Republican
77th District
How would you assess Connecticut’s fiscal health? Given that assessment, how should the General Assembly approach the state budget?
I would describe Connecticut’s fiscal health as terminal. Each year, our taxes rise and our state spending increases, making it increasingly difficult to live, work, and raise a family. As a result, people are departing in record numbers. You don’t have to look far to see a “For Sale” sign in Bristol. Connecticut is on a course that is not sustainable.
A budget that relies on one-time revenues and short changes pension liabilities reinforces my belief that there is a need for change. I believe that the State of Connecticut must do what every household in Connecticut must do: Live within its means. I think we need to manage the state budget the same way we manage our household budgets, by spending no more than we make. As a bankruptcy attorney, I see on a daily basis the negative impact that overspending can have when people and businesses choose to kick the can down the road.
Currently, the state pays over $2 billion dollars a year in debt service (ie pay principal and interest) on outstanding bond obligations. A bond is similar to a mortgage and can be a great tool when utilized properly. However, you would not take out a mortgage to pay your regular expenses like electricity and gas because these are expenses that should be budgeted for. The first step in holding the line on spending is to stop the wasteful borrowing. We, as a state have mortgaged the future of every municipal project, essentially mortgaging the futures of our children and grandchildren. This has to stop.

If elected, what is the number one issue you would like to address that would benefit the district you serve?
I strongly believe that the safety of our residents should be a priority for our legislators.
I will fight any legislative efforts to reduce the size of drug-free zones around schools and daycare centers, like those considered during the last two legislative sessions that would have reduced drug-free zones around schools, day care centers and public housing from 1,500 feet to 200 feet.
I think a lot of people will be shocked to learn that their current representative supported legislation that would allow someone caught selling drugs near a school to avoid the stiff penalty that they deservedly face today. I haven’t talked to a single Bristol resident who thinks this would be good for our community, and most say it’s the clearest indication yet that a majority of legislators who serve in Hartford have fallen out of touch with the people they serve. They’re frustrated that he didn’t tell them about this major proposed shift in criminal justice policy.
The legislation (H.B. 6511) was a response to concerns from urban areas, where some people say it’s unfair that people arrested for selling drugs face an enhanced penalty due to the concentration of schools and public housing. We should be talking about protecting our children. The whole state should be a drug free zone. I will block any bills such as those previously proposed, that put our children and elderly at risk.

Infrastructure has emerged as a topic of discussion when addressing the issue of attracting new businesses in Connecticut. What are your views on the state’s current infrastructure and what role should the state legislature play in that area?
I’m sure you have heard the phrase … “The Busway to Nowhere?” The New Britain/ Hartford Busway is costing taxpayers over $600 million dollars to construct and will cost $1,000 an inch. It is a clear definition of a boondoggle and is a clear example of poor investments that the current administration has made in infrastructure.
Investments in ultra-high-speed gigabit Internet service could have profound economic implications for our state by reducing costs for businesses and making Connecticut more competitive. Fiber optics also will make our public agencies run more efficiently and as a result provide us with long term savings. The role of the legislature is to provide protection to its citizens and a stable environment so that businesses may flourish. Legislators should not interfere with the decisions of private companies, but rather should let the marketplace pick the winners and losers.
Biography
Cara Pavalock was raised in Bristol where she attended Immanuel Lutheran and St. Paul Catholic High School and was an active member of the Bristol Girl’s Club. After graduating cum laude from law school in Miami, she moved to Washington, D.C. to attend Georgetown Law Center where she received a master’s of law degree in taxation. Currently, she is a civil attorney in Connecticut and Florida and also volunteers at Edgewood Elementary School.