MERIDEN — Republican, Democratic and Libertarian candidates in three local races were sharply divided on the implementation of tolls, how to close a $4.5 billion deficit, and other issues during a candidate forum this week.
Candidates running for the 13th Senate District and the 82nd and 83rd House District squared off in a debate Thursday at Washington Middle School sponsored by the Record-Journal, Midstate Chamber of Commerce, and Meriden Board of Education.
13th Senate District
Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden, said the state won’t be attractive to businesses if it continues raising taxes.
“Businesses won’t come to the state because of the tax burdens,” Suzio said. “You’ve got to tighten the belt, look where you can cut costs.
He pointed to negotiations with state employee unions that produced budget savings as an example. He also said the state needs to be more creative, and mentioned his proposal for a fund that would allow residents to donate toward services for residents with disabilities in exchange for a tax deduction.
Mary Daugherty Abrams, the Democratic nominee, said the state can shore up its budget “by building our economy.
“The way we build our economy is by educating a workforce that is ready to work, and offer a quality of life here in Connecticut that attracts people and makes them want to be part of the state. If everyone is prospering our deficit will take care of itself,” she said.
She also said the state needs to make its tax structure “more equitable,” including asking wealthier residents to pay slightly more, and that Connecticut could bolster its revenue with legalized sports betting, with some money going toward pensions.
Abrams also criticized Suzio for voting in favor of a Republican-proposed budget in 2017 that would have increased teachers’ pension contributions, but that would have put that money into the general budget fund and not directly into the pension fund. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy vetoed that budget.
Abrams didn’t take a stance on the implementation of tolls, but said she would like to see an actual plan. She voiced opposition to a $10 million study the State Bonding Commission recently authorized on tolls. She argued that the state needs to make infrastructure upgrades a priority, referencing the Mianus River Bridge collapse in Greenwich in 1983.
Suzio expressed his opposition to tolls, instead touting a Republican proposal that would rely on bonding to pay for infrastructure projects. He also said the Malloy Administration was exaggerating concerns about the future of the Special Transportation Fund because gas consumption has increased in recent years, producing more revenue from fuel taxes.
The two candidates also differed on how the state should respond if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade. Abrams said she would oppose any proposal to reduce or eliminat women’s right to choose.
Suzio said he regards “every abortion as a tragedy,” and the state should require parental notification when anyone under the age of 16 seeks an abortion. He said public support as it currently stands would make it unlikely to pass any stricter laws to limit access to abortions.
82nd House District
Rep. Catherine Abercrombie, D-Meriden, said she wouldn’t take a stance on whether she would support a tax increase because she first wanted to see what the next governor’s budget proposal is going to be. As a co-chair of the General Assembly’s Human Services Committee, Abercrombie is wary of cuts affecting the state’s most vulnerable.
Both of her opponents, though, voiced opposition to any tax increases and said the state needs to cut spending to balance its budget.
Republican Lou Arata said the legislature should seek to reduce waste and corruption and decrease the bureaucracy in state government. He also voiced support for Republican Gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski’s call for a zero budget methodology, although he said the legislature should look to avoid cuts to human services.
Libertarian Roger Misbach said “there is plenty of waste in the budget that can be cut,” and also voiced his opposition to tax increases.
He also said he was initially against the implementation of tolls, but changed his mind after travel to other states caused him to view tolls as a way to charge out-of-state drivers for their usage of Connecticut's roads. He also said revenue from tolls could allow the state to reduce taxes on fuel and motor vehicle purchases, fees for registrations, and other costs.
Abercrombie said she supports tolls in part because she’s concerned cuts to human services would be needed to fund transportation projects if tolls aren’t implemented. Arata, meanwhile, said he views tolls as another tax and he doesn’t support the idea.
Abercrombie also said she supports raising the minimum wage, saying many residents are forced to work two or three jobs to make ends meet. Arata said jobs, and not wages, should be the barometer for the economy, and he expressed concern that a minimum wage increase would hurt the ability of small businesses to grow jobs.
Misbach said wages should be subject to the free market and not the government.
82nd House District
Rep. Emil “Buddy” Altobello, D-Meriden, touted his experience, including 24 years in the legislature, and said one of his best traits is his ability to secure additional funding for projects in his district.
Republican Ernestine Holloway also pointed to Altobello’s experience, but said voters should view it as a negative.
”We need a fresh new set of eyes,” Holloway said. “He’s been doing this too long.”
Holloway said she opposed any tax increases and that lawmakers need to “tighten our belts.” She pointed to her ability to collect items and donate them to schoolchildren on a tight budget, and suggested the state should operate on similar ideals.
When asked about taxes, Altobello said “we’ll see what happens” with the next governor’s budget. While he didn’t take a firm stance, he did say cuts are difficult because everyone points to programs they don’t utilize without thinking about the harm to residents who do.
“There is no magic bullet here, someone has to pay,” he said. Altobello also expressed concern that if the state cuts municipal aid, it will force local officials to raise property taxes on residents to make up the difference.
Holloway said the state could cut spending by finding efficiencies in higher education and utilizing more renewable energy sources, like solar, to reduce energy costs. She also said the state needs to better prioritize its transportation spending, voicing more support in particular for bus service over the new CTrail line.
On school security, Holloway proposed multiple police officers in each school as a way to help keep kids safe. Altobello said the state has already done a lot since the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, and that the emphasis now needs to be on addressing students’ mental health needs.