Candidates square off at chamber forum

By TAYLOR MURCHISON-GALLAGHER

STAFF WRITER

The Central Connecticut Chamber of Commerce held a forum for candidates running for seats in the Senate and House of Representatives at St. Paul High School, on Tuesday, Oct. 23.

Hoping to represent the 31 District as a state senator are Henri Martin (Republican) and Christopher Wright (Democrat). Running for a seat in the House of Representatives are Cara Pavalock-D’Amato (R) and Kevin Fuller (D) in district 77, Whit Betts (R) and Allen Marko (D) in district 78, and David Rackliffe (R) and Chris Ziogas (D) in district 79.

Questions were read by host, Paul LaVoie, of Carey Manufacturing, and were developed by the regional Legislative Action Committee, with input from the public. All candidates were given 90 seconds to answer each question.

When asked about the delayed budget and the impact it had on state-provided funding to municipalities, Betts said it’s “totally unacceptable” that the monetary promises from the state were not kept, as towns “depend on what the state government provides them.” Marko agreed, saying that was “no way to run a government.”

“There is no reason not to reach a budget decision in time for municipalities, and school boards, to set their budgets,” said Marko.

Asked what their top three priorities are for the state legislature. Ziogas said the budget was his top priority. Rackliffe said fiscal stability, bipartisanship, and regulations for bonding were his top priorities.

“That would be my first priority: looking at ways we can cut the cost of government operations,” said Rackliffe.

Asked if the fiscal problems facing the state today were the cause of a spending problem or a revenue problem. Fuller said he believes that Connecticut has both a spending and a revenue problem, and that both areas need to be addressed in order to see real progress. One such way to address revenue, according to Fuller, would be to look for creative revenue streams, such as sports betting taxes. Pavalock-D’Amato said she felt it was a spending problem, and listed several items that she felt illustrated her point, such as the $54 million that went towards “bailing out Hartford.”

Next was a question regarding economic development and high-wage job growth. Ziogas discussed “human capital,” and the need to offer “alternative avenues” to young people as they leave high school and begin to look for employment. Rackliffe believes that young people need to be trained for the jobs that are available, and that there needs to be more support for entrepreneurs.

Next there was a question regarding the funding of transportation efforts, and “improving our transportation infrastructure.” Pavalock-D’Amato addressed that voters would see a similar question on ballots on Nov. 6, and while the idea of a “transportation lock-box” isn’t a terrible idea, she still felt it wasn’t the best solution. Fuller had similar sentiments, saying that it wasn’t the best idea. He referenced how it had previously been said that money from the lottery would be used to help fund education, saying that the lock-box would more than likely lead to a similar situation.

Betts and Marko were asked about “partisan rhetoric” and whether a bipartisan approach would be needed moving forward. They both said bipartisanship was necessary, with Marko saying the government needs to work for everyone, and Betts saying that public input would be an important asset.

Fuller and Pavalock-D’Amato were asked about a report by the Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth, which was released in March, 2018. The report is described as a “plan for Connecticut,” and in the opening it reads, “…It will get us on the road to recovery, both in terms of budget stability and economic growth.” Fuller admitted that he hadn’t read the entire report, but one of his conclusions was a need to “focus on getting funding into our education system” in order to prepare young people for the workforce. Pavalock-D’Amato agreed that workforce development is important, but she also liked the suggestions of a “red tape commission” to alleviate some of the regulations placed on small businesses, and the use of the University of Connecticut as a national STEM research facility.

Further into the evening, candidates were asked about the state deficit and ways to improve our fiscal stability. Wright said he doesn’t “think that there’s any one answer.” He believes getting young people into the workforce more quickly can help generate tax-based revenue. Martin referenced the CFSEG report, which suggested finding $1 billion worth of cut. Martin said that would be about 5 percent of the budget, and that a good deal of those cuts could come from bonding, the line item for “governor’s discretionary bonding.”

Next they were asked about their proposed solutions to rising healthcare costs. Martin felt that healthcare costs affect every household, whether you’re an employee or an employer. He said he wasn’t sure if universal healthcare was the answer.

Candidates were asked about transportation infrastructure, and how they propose those efforts be funded. Wright said he wasn’t “necessarily opposed” to the inclusion of tolls. He referenced the CFSEG report, which suggests the implementation of tolls and a hike in the gas tax. Wright said if he was to support tolls, he would want to see a decrease in the gas tax, rather than an increase. Martin said that under the bonding line item in the budget are several allocations to municipalities, school construction projects, and other such projects. Once those allocations have been made, Martin said, there would be approximately $700 million remaining that could be put towards creating and maintaining roads, bridges, highways, and other forms of transportation infrastructure.

Due to how many questions were submitted by the public regarding “partisan rhetoric,” Lavoie asked the same question of Martin and Wright: “Explain how you plan to work with all of the elected officials, mayors, council members, boards of educations, and others, in the towns that you’ll serve.” Both delegates spoke about their bipartisan work, and how important it is to work collaboratively.

The 2018 gubernatorial election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 6.