The candidates for Westport's state Senate seats highlighted their positions on top campaign issues, such as job growth and state spending, during a cordial forum Monday night at Town Hall.

The matchup between state Sen. Toni Boucher and her Democratic challenger, Carolanne Curry, highlighted the Senate forum. Boucher, who represents Westport and six other Fairfield County towns in the 26th Senate District, is seeking to win a third Senate term in the Nov. 6 election. Curry, who is making her first run for elected office, is an alternate member of the Westport Planning and Zoning Commission.

"I really do believe that tax policy in the state of Connecticut has a direct relationship with job growth and the health of our economy," Boucher said. "We have to create a better environment for business overall to keep them here."

Curry argued that more state support of small businesses would drive economic growth.

"Small businesses in this state are the backbone, they are the history of this state," she said. "If there's anything that we can do in our imagination and in our intelligence to keep these businesses healthy, whether it's some sort of tax incentive, tax reduction, tax elimination, I'm all for that."

The two candidates also outlined their plans to reduce the state's public debt. Curry suggested a statewide cap on municipal property tax rates.

"If we had property tax [cap], our real estate could remain competitive with New York state, which has just introduced a cap on property tax," she said. "The thought is that once you introduce something like a cap on property tax, it begins to start a conversation on what other ways we might be able to raise revenue."

Boucher, a deputy minority leader in the state Senate, called for the state to rein in spending on public employees' compensation and benefits.

"We need a wage freeze, a hiring freeze, but most importantly change some of the parameters that people use to retire," she said. "That will change the actuarial tables and really bring down some of our pension liabilities."

Boucher and Curry maintained a conciliatory tone throughout the forum, as both candidates avoided personal attacks. The lack of contention may reflect the underlying dynamics of a race, in which Curry has acknowledged that Boucher is the frontrunner. In 2010, Boucher easily won re-election, when she defeated her Democratic challenger, John Hartwell, by a 59 percent to 41 percent margin.

The forum also featured state Sen. John McKinney of Fairfield, who represents the 28th Senate District. The district covers Fairfield, Easton, part of Weston, and this year includes a southeastern section of Westport as well, following last year's redistricting. McKinney, a Republican and the Senate minority leader, is running unopposed for his eighth term in the state Senate. Like Boucher, he called for changes to state employees' benefit plans.

"We have unfunded pension liabilities in excess of $60 billion, and we have an annual budget of only $20 billion," he said. "When you tell people that Connecticut is worse than Illinois, worse than California, by miles, with our borrowing and debt and unfunded liability, they shake their hands in disbelief."

Charlotte Garrell, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Fairfield, moderated the forum. Among her questions to the candidates, she asked them about their positions on deer population control, a controversial issue in recent years in Westport and other Fairfield County towns.

"Deer had a place and they were very happy with the place that they had," Curry said. "And then the developers discovered those places. I think that if we're going to let the development of our land continue, and we're going to let the deer be forced out of their habitat, then we're going to have to deal with it on a town and state basis."

Boucher said she would consider supporting deer contraception, although she acknowledged concerns about that method.

"There was concern that it would get into the food of people who eat deer," she said. "I think this is going to be a long-standing debate. Let's hope that there are some new strategies and maybe some new technical and medical ways to deal with it."

McKinney recalled, as a former member of the General Assembly's Environment Committee, that deer control had also sparked contentious debate at the state level.

"I think that the state could help out towns with some of their proposals to cull the deer population," he said. "What we need is to take the passion and emotion out of the argument and work with our communities."; 203-255-4561. ext. 118;