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OPINION: The value of experience in a crisis

OPINION: The value of experience in a crisis

This February, the legislature opened on a hopeful note. We had achieved a balanced state budget and filled the Rainy Day Fund. We took for granted normal routines such as haircuts. But the pandemic arrived, the federal government was slow to react, and the states had to find their own protective gear and testing equipment. Our state was hit hard by COVID-19 and we had to shut down to slow the virus and protect our hospital and emergency workers.

As of May 18, confirmed cases in Connecticut reached 38,116, the number of deaths reached 3,449 andWallingford had 400 confirmed cases and 50 deaths. One of these deaths was my aunt, Mary Grant, who helped me and my husband raise our sons when they were children.

The pandemic halted the legislative session in early March and generated a 24/7 stream of casework from my Wallingford constituents. Residents suddenly had no income and needed unemployment benefits, medical care, food and supplies. They couldn’t get through to agencies that were overwhelmed by half a million jobless workers. Constituents knew they could contact me and I would work hard to help them.

The virus won’t stop killing people just because May 20 was re-open day.  Until a vaccine is ready, we will struggle to provide public health and a safety net while we carefully resume economic activity and continue the education of our future leaders. We will need both people’s good will and government assistance – charity alone can’t cover these needs.

Some residents will need new jobs. As of April 19, Wallingford had 3,562 unemployed workers and the state’s unemployment rate was 18%.  There will be tough times ahead, as the state had enormous unplanned expenditures that were necessary to support people and keep them safe. The good news is that our state is one of only 7 that Moody’s says is financially stable because we filled the Rainy Day Fund.

The Rainy Day Fund is not bottomless and virus-related expenditures will force tough decisions in future sessions. According to the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis, lean years are coming.

In this pandemic, my government experience is critical to Wallingford residents. My long legislative experience includes chairmanships of the Environment Committee, Children’s Committee, and the bipartisan Program Review and Investigations Committee. I’ve also served many years on the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee and its bonding subcommittee, and focused on workforce on the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee.

My time in House leadership has prepared me to protect my town and state. My current role as one of the Deputy Speakers in the majority party is a good position from which to defend my town. My colleagues and I will continue to seek Congressional funding as well as adjust our state budget to protect health and human services while dealing with the cost of the virus.

Although we face many challenges in navigating this recovery, I am proud of my work in the legislature. At the close of the 2019 legislative session, I had accomplished many of the goals set out in our agenda: final passage of the State Water Plan, offshore wind energy, removal of the tax on Social Security and pensions to assist retirees and a net gain in town aid for Wallingford. We kept parks open and protected the Medicare Savings Program and Meals on Wheels. We restored education funding and alternative juvenile sentencing. We restored the public information purpose of the cable t.v. fund. I will build upon these successes, working tirelessly on your behalf and with a new focus on the unique challenges of the virus ahead. 

As we carefully go back to work in the staged reopening, I’ll use job retraining programs such as Platform to Employment, which I expanded statewide, and our educational institutions to move people into sustainable careers that help Wallingford, our state and our planet recover. I’ll continue to protect citizen access to public health, not as a charity but as a right. My long experience in public service is an asset in helping Wallingford residents recover from the disruption of COVID-19. I look forward to economic recovery and getting a haircut soon!

It was an honor to be nominated by unanimous vote at the Democratic convention on May 20 to run for state representative for Wallingford’s 85th District. My life has been dedicated to public service, passing legislation for clean water, child poverty prevention, the job retraining program Platform to Employment, new commuter train service, the Quinnipiac River Linear Trail, our fair share of state funding, and clean energy, aquifer protection and recycling.  Our town of Wallingford is 350 years old and we wish to sustain and improve our town for another 350 years. With your help, I look forward to continuing to serve my hometown in the Connecticut General Assembly.

Democrat Mary Mushinsky is state representative in Wallingford’s 85th District.