Legislative candidates face off at LWV forum
Updated 1:42 pm, Thursday, October 9, 2014
Eight candidates vying for Westport seats in the state's General Assembly in the Nov. 4 election faced off Wednesday night in a forum held in the Town Hall auditorium.
Candidates participating included state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-26, being challenged by Democrat Philip Sharlach; state Rep. Kim Fawcett, D-133, and State Rep. Tony Hwang, R-134, Fairfield legislators now running for the state Senate in the 28th District; state Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-143, challenged by Democrat Keith Rodgerson, and state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-136, who is being challenged by Republican Brandi Briggs.
Questions ranged from taxes and tolls to ways to improve transportation and the state's infrastructure.
"We need to demonstrate fiscal responsibility," said Hwang. "Eleven cents of every dollar goes to finance charges." He also said the state hasn't done enough to generate jobs. "We have to function like a household, to have shared sacrifices."
Boucher said she'd like to pass a state budget that "is responsible," adding the state's spending and borrowing is too high. "We have the highest debt in the country."
Hwang also said the state's infrastructure has been neglected. "We need to overhaul the transportation system and hold Metro-North accountable," he said.
Fawcett agreed. "We have to get serious about funding long-term infrastructure plans," adding the state needs to set priorities "and stick to them."
Sharlach pointed to the fact that people from out of state are able to collect unemployment from Connecticut even if they live in another state, which costs abut $175 million a year. "We have to look for real solutions," he said. "I've just given you an example."
Asked about imposing highway tolls, Hwang, Boucher, Fawcett and Sharlach were all against implementing them.
On the issue of education, Boucher said she was a "non-English speaking kindergartner" and that the public school system helped her and her brother succeed. She said she's for "literacy first." Hwang said his family chose to come to the United States because they believed education is "the greatest equalizer."
Briggs said the state isn't business friendly. "Don't come here; we don't really want you here," she said is the impression the state gives to business owners.
Lavielle said new businesses should be given tax credits, adding small businesses, which make up 70 percent of businesses in the state, "want predictability with tax policies."
Rodgerson said the state needs to offer "job training like those in the red states." He said the state also has to help small businesses "retool or we will lose them."
Briggs said "we are losing our labor force," adding 49 percent of residents say they would leave Connecticut, given the chance.
But Steinberg disagreed, saying that percentage was only "after a very bad winter."
On the issue of repealing gun safety laws, Steinberg he thinks the legislation could have been passed "less hastily," but added he's "proud of what we accomplished" especially in the area of mental health issues. He added, "We have the right to bear arms, but we have to be sensible."
Lavielle said she would not seek to repeal the law, but she does think more can be done to improve the mental health provision.
Rodgerson said more work needs to be done. "Laws need to be stronger to maintain a civil society," he said.
In the closing statements, Rodgerson, who went last, took a shot as his challenger, saying Lavielle had "proposed 92 bills, but none have passed and many had no co-sponsors."
"I have introduced numerous pieces of legislation that have become law," Lavielle countered a day later.
"They include, but are not limited to, proposals to create a lockbox to ensure that transportation funds are used only for transportation purposes, facilitate brownfield remediation, form a bipartisan task force to focus on relief for school districts from unfunded education mandates and create a state port authority to develop and promote Connecticut's deep-water ports," she explained, adding others were to "incentivize clean marina practices, give cities and towns a central place to promote their local resources on the state's electronic business portal and create a grant program for small businesses that hire new apprentices."
But the Rodgerson campaign on Thursday shot back that its claim is based "on the 102 bills (not 92 as Keith mentioned) that she alone introduced between 2011 and 2014," and not those that Lavielle said she "authored or co-sponsored." They said claim can be verified by checking the General Assembly website, via the "Find Bills By Introducer" under "Search."