WESTON — Regionalization and the state’s finances were among the subjects of a recent virtual debate hosted by the Weston League of Women Voters.

The debate featured state Rep. Anne Hughes, D-135, and her Republican challenger John Shaban, who previously held the seat from 2011 to 2017. Shaban did not run for a fourth term in 2016 and instead ran for U.S. Congress against U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4.

The 135th district serves Weston, Easton and parts of Redding.

Regionalization

Regionalization was the biggest point of contention in the debate, although both candidates said they opposed forced regionalization. The 135th district holds a unique position in the topic, due to it representing the full autonomy of Weston, and the voluntary regionalization of Easton and Redding for the high school.

Hughes said she opposed forced regionalization, but highlighted Joel Barlow High School as an example of towns freely choosing the path.

“It’s a model of success that works but is completely voluntary,” she said. “These two towns decided that this made sense to share the cost of a high school and I applaud that as a model.”

But Shaban said the progressive caucus, which Hughes is a co-chair, has continuously pushed for regionalization of schools and land use.

“They have since its inception. There’s different flavors of it, but we have to fight it at its source,” he said. “Regionalization if it’s voluntary makes sense.”

Hughes said the progressive caucus supported ways to create more equitable public school funding, but the public will was equally important.

“Some of these approaches are on the table and they don’t solve the underlying systemic issues and they don’t follow the public will,” she said. “I’m really eager to amplify the pubic will and communicate what that will is to my members.”

Taxes

The candidates largely differed on how to approach taxes and the state’s financial situation.

Hughes said the state has one of the widest income-level disparities in the country and a fairer tax policy should be reviewed. She said this would ensure middle-income and lower-wealth families are not paying a higher portion of taxes than those getting the biggest tax breaks.

“We’ve looked at ways that those who benefited from the 2017 federal tax breaks could reinvest into Connecticut and we are continuing that conversation,” she said.

Hughes said her district has seen a recent influx of out-of-state residents due to COVID, the quality of schools, and area property taxes being less than those across the state line in Westchester County.

“We want to build on that, welcome those folks into our communities and strengthen the fairness of our tax policy at the state and local level,” she said.

But Shaban said it’s more important to talk about the effectiveness of the tax structure.

“We need to stop changing the rates and rules of Connecticut every year,” he said. “Every year I was up there from 2011 to 2017 there was a change in some rate, a change in some rule, a change in some fee....that makes things too unpredictable.”

He said the state had the largest tax receipts in its history after passing big tax increases in 2012, 2014 and 2016.

“Yet we still came up short on funding schools, we came up short on funding shelters, we came up short because we didn’t spend the money right,” Shaban said.

Renewable energy

The candidates agreed renewable and sustainable energy is the state’s future.

Shaban said the most important thing is to help businesses propagate forward.

“Renewable energy is the engine that will drive the next economic flood,” he said.

Hughes said she wants to approach the future of the state through an equity and justice lens.

“That means there’s an urgency to the climate crisis that we’re facing and there’s an urgency to the justice crisis that we’re also facing,” she said. “That means we try to center those most impacted or most harmed in the policy making as we move forward.”

She said a pivot to sustainable and renewable energy was important for everyone’s future.

“We want to not only protect the environment, but make sure the planet is inhabitable for our children and our future,” Hughes said.

dj.simmons@hearstmediact.com