SOUTHINGTON — Gubernatorial candidates debated taxes, job creation and the state’s fiscal future before a crowd of business leaders at a forum Thursday morning.
Four Republican candidates, Mark Boughton, Steve Obsitnik, Bob Stefanowski and David Stemerman attended. Tim Herbst, a Republican candidate, was not present.
Democratic candidate Joe Ganim was present. His Democratic opponent Ned Lamont was not.
Independent candidate Oz Griebel also attended.
The forum held at the Aqua Turf Club was organized by the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce. Candidates focused their remarks on plans to restore the state’s economy and park investment.
Danbury mayor Boughton said the current crisis is an opportunity to restructure the state for the future. He proposed phasing out the income tax over the next decade and replacing the pension system.
“This is our time to completely reorganize state government,” Boughton said.
He touted his experience in Danbury and that city’s progress in bringing jobs and keeping down taxes.
Stemerman, a businessman, said proposals to eliminate the income tax by Boughton and others were “empty promises.”
“The problem is catastrophic,” he said. “Unless and until we restructure our retirement liabilities, we can’t cut a single cent of taxes.”
Stemerman proposed creating an independent, locked financial trust for retirement obligations similar to what was done for automobile workers when their companies were restructured.
Ganim, Bridgeport mayor, was the only Democrat at the forum and called out his opponent Lamont in next weeks’ primary for not being there.
“I think we should call him up and find out why he’s not here. This is important,” Ganim said. Organizers said they were attempting to get Lamont to attend as late as yesterday.
Ganim focused on his experience as a mayor and his understanding of the public sector.
“It’s the experience like that that Connecticut needs now,” he said.
“I want to build a new and better economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few,” Ganim said.
Griebel, former MetroHartford Alliance president, said the two-party system was broken and in need of someone to bring together the “intellectual capital” in the state.
“Only an independent governor can bring the parties together,” he said.
Griebel described the job of governor as Connecticut’s “chief marketing officer” who would work with business leaders and others to end 30 years of no net job growth.
Obsitnik talked about his plan to create 300,000 jobs and his experience in business that included making antennas.
“I’m the only manufacturer running for governor,” he told the business leaders and others in attendance. “I understand what you’re dealing with every day.”
He said he’s also identified $3.5 billion in spending cuts.
“You need a fighter that will mobilize the resources of this state,” Obsitnik said.
Stefanowski said his time in leadership at General Electric and UBS makes him uniquely qualified to run the state.
“We need to start running the state of Connecticut like you guys run your businesses,” he said. “We need fiscal responsibility, we need discipline.”
He also proposed eliminating the state income tax and implementing zero-based budgeting, just as he did during his career.
“We can resize government,” Stefanowski said.