NORTH HAVEN — A sliding minimum wage, where to allocate electronic tolling money, and how to fix the state’s financial problems were the few points Democratic candidates for the 34th Senate District Aili McKeen and Josh Balter disagreed on at a public forum Thursday.
The candidates spent an hour and a half answering questions for around 50 people gathered at the North Haven Library and those watching on NHTV. It was the last forum before voters decide in Tuesday’s primary who will face Republican incumbent Len Fasano in November’s race for the 34th Senate District, which covers Wallingford, North Haven, East Haven and Durham.
The candidates spent most of the forum agreeing on issues, including environmentally friendly regulations, improving infrastructure across the state, and legalizing marijuana.
Both McKeen, of Wallingford and the endorsed candidate, and Balter, of East Haven, are against having armed guards in schools, agreeing that the focus on student safety should be directed to structures and “hardening” the schools, as Balter explained it.
Although both agreed that electronic tolls should be added to the state’s highways to increase state revenue, they differed whether a consitutional lock box should ensure the funds go only to the Special Transportation fund.
McKeen said she supports the idea, which is on the ballot in November, while Balter opposed it. Balter also said he supported giving discounts for in-state residents. McKeen didn’t directly address the idea.
McKeen and Balter agreed that the minimum wage needs to be raised to $15 an hour, but Balter thinks it should be handled on a sliding scale.
“The mom and pop shops… that can’t afford $15, they got to pay more than $10.10, (but) we’ll give them a break,” Balter said. “But Walmart, Home Depot, Lowes, McDonalds, Burger King: time to get off the state dime.”
McKeen said she thinks a sliding scale would only harm small business owners.
“I think that businesses are put at a disadvantage and it will create high turnover for them, which is very expensive,” McKeen said. She suggested instead raising to $15 and then tie increases to inflation.
When asked about how the candidates would deal with the state’s unfunded liabilities for state pensions, Balter disagreed with McKeen’s support of a plan to move assets into the treasury in order to improve the state’s bond rating.
Their views on gun control are similar — supporting the ban on bump stocks, agreeing regulations need to be tighten on ghost guns, and against 3D printed guns. However, Balter claimed McKeen’s reasons for supporting more gun control were different than his.
“I personally testified this past session for the ban of bump stocks and the ban on ghost guns. I’ve been consistent on that from day one and I’ve never changed my purpose,” Balter said. “The reason why is safety. These weapons make it too easy to commit mass murder and get away with it.”
Balter claimed that McKeen only advocates gun control regulations because she knows it’s good for her candidacy, after getting push back on it early in the race. He cited a public statement she made allegedly saying bump stocks should be banned because they ruin aim.
McKeen, a member of the pro-gun group Connecticut Citizens Defense League, rebutted, saying her intentions have always been the public’s safety.
“I did say that bump stocks are a stupid accessory that ruin aim, that’s not why I wanted to ban them. That was one of the reasons that nobody really cares to keep them around,” McKeen said. “I wanted to ban them… I am for things that make people safer.”