By Jesse Buchanan
SOUTHINGTON — Ten Republican gubernatorial candidates shared their positions on state finances, budget, transportation, economic growth, and Connecticut’s decline during a forum Friday hosted by the Connecticut Construction Industries Association
With Democratic Gov. DannelP. Malloy not running for reelection next year, a host of Republicans and Democrats have started campaigns or are considering a run.
Republican candidates who spoke at the Aqua Turf Club Friday included business owners, doctors, lawyers, a mayor, and a former federal official.
Michael Handler, Timothy Herbst, Mark Lauretti, Eric Mastroianni, Scott Merrell, Steve Obsitnick, PrasadSrinivasan, David Walker, Peter Thalheim, and Joseph Visconti attended.
All agreed that Connecticut was in poor shape with high taxes, heavy legacy costs, economic decline and an overbearing government.
Thalheim, a Greenwich builder and attorney, said the state and its residents were in an “existential struggle” and said he’d work to reduce government involvement in life and business.
“Right now the state is winning,” Thalheim said of that struggle.
He also criticized ever-growing regulations such as building codes and requirements on home buyers that make “the most expensive thing we buy more expensive.” Not all states have the same building codes, according to Thalheim, and he cited Vermont, which doesn’t have building codes in most of its towns.
“We’ll go there. The houses don’t fall down,” he said.
Candidates tied transportation and economic development issues to the state’s fiscal problems and growing budget deficit. Visconti, a West Hartford contractor who ran unsuccessfully for govenor as an unaffiliated candidate in 2014, said the state was “bleeding bad” and that recovery won’t happen without some increases in taxes or other revenue-raising measures such as tolls.
He advocated for tolls that target commercial vehicles with transponders on state and local bridges.
“We need to look at internal tolls for commercial traffic,” Visconti said, adding that he realized his support for tolls might come as a surprise.
Herbst, who unsuccessfully ran for state treasurer in 2014, said citizens need a leader willing to make unpopular but necessary decisions.
“We need leaders who are focused on the next generation,” he said. “I am prepared to be a one term governor, not getting reelected if it means doing the right thing.”
Lauretti, mayor of Shelton for the past 26 years, said a being a one-term governor would mean being viewed as a so-called lame duck. “I want to be a governor that’s been successful,” he said.
Lauretti said he’s been able to draw businesses to Shelton without economic incentives.
“We offered them predictability and the most competitive tax rate the state has to offer. That’s how we’re growing our economy,” he said.
Leigh Appleby, spokesman for the state Democratic Party, said there was a lot of bluster, but very few solutions from Republican candidates.
“Not one of the Republicans on stage offered any way forward,” he said.
Appleby also criticized state candidates for not standing against measures from federal Republicans and Republican President Donald Trump that he said will raise taxes on most Connecticut residents. “They’ll choose Trump every time,” he said.