WALLINGFORD — Candidates focused on the economy, workers and the state budget while responding to questions during a forum hosted by the Quinnipiac and Greater New Haven chambers of commerce.
The virtual forum on Thursday featured candidates in the 85th, 86th, 87th and 90th House of Representatives races and the 34th State Senate contest. Democrats Vincent Mase and Kathy Grant, who are running for the 86th and 87th House seats, were unable to attend, while April Capone, who is running for the 34th Senate district, declined to participate, according to moderator Garrett Sheehan.
Voters unsure of which district they reside in can enter their address into a portal on the General Assembly’s website.
Solutions to protecting those who have been unable to work during the economic shutdown caused by the pandemic included workforce development and retraining, pressing the federal government to extend enhanced unemployment benefits and reducing professional licensing requirements.
Mary Mushinsky, a Democrat running to retain her 85th House seat, championed using the state Platform to Employment program to help unemployed workers enter industries not as harshly impacted by the lockdown. She also called for extending expired federal unemployment benefits, saying that many jobs may not return until a vaccine has been developed.
“There’s certain sectors I don't think are going to recover quickly until we have a vaccine … They're just not going to recover until people feel safe to move around,” she said.
David Yaccarino, the Republican incumbent in the 87th House race, said that business owners and employees shouldn’t have to leave careers they’ve built for themselves because of the pandemic. Instead, he suggested lowering taxes and streamlining bureaucracy. He added that it can take as long as 80 days for a prospective employee to obtain the necessary licensing to work.
Candidates were in favor of the state providing some liability protections for businesses bringing workers back into offices and storefronts, with Republican Craig Fishbein, an incumbent running for the 90th House district, mentioning that there are discussions around using the worker’s compensation program to administer it.
Fishbein also criticized the impact the economic shutdown is having on local businesses, saying a client of his law firm is a restaurant being evicted while not being able to operate at full capacity.
His Democratic opponent, Jim Jinks, said it’s an appropriate time to move into the third phase of the economic reopening and increase restaurants’ capacity, while keeping bars and nightclubs closed.
“It’s right for us to be moving into phase three at this point … I'm in agreement with where things are heading,” he said.
On the state budget, Democrats supported Gov. Ned Lamont’s proposal to use rainy day funds to close a projected deficit, given that the fund has reached its cap at 15 percent of the budget. Republicans opposed the expenditure, with Weston Ulbrich, who’s running for the 85th House district, saying that a healthy emergency fund prompted bond ratings agencies to give the state good marks.
Ulbrich also called for renegotiating state employees’ benefit plans to move towards health savings accounts and 401k plans over pensions. Lower taxes would also assist businesses struggling to weather the pandemic, suggesting that with a lower sales tax his employer, Ulbrich Steel, could hire additional employees.
“It’s really burdensome to do business in this state,” he said.
Mushinsky said the pandemic has already revealed ways that government can operate using the internet, which can lead to future streamlining after the pandemic has passed. She also suggested using county-wide accounting systems and consolidating some municipal operations, such as emergency services dispatch centers. States as large as California only have three such centers, she said, while Connecticut has 52.
While discussing the special transportation fund, Republican Paul Cicarella, who’s running for the 34th State Senate district, said the data and metrics that were being used to guide decisions and funding prior to the pandemic should be reexamined as telecommuting is seen as an option for more employers after the quarantine.