State reps discuss transportation woes, fiscal crisis
WESTPORT — Although the legislative season hasn’t started back up yet, Westport’s state representatives gathered to discuss Connecticut’s transportation infrastructure and the fiscal crisis at a public information session hosted by the Westport League of Women Voters.
State Sen. Tony Hwang, R-36, and Reps. Jonathan Steinberg, D-136, and Gail Lavielle, R-143, mingled with residents and shared their thoughts at the League’s “Pie & Politics” at the Westport Veterans of Foreign Wars building Wednesday night.
The politicians, each of whom represents all or a portion of Westport, will convene in Hartford on Feb. 7 for the start of the 2018 legislative session and all agreed the road ahead will not be easy, both figuratively and literally, when it comes to fixing the state’s transportation infrastructure.
Steinberg said the state’s transportation fund will likely become insolvent as a result of inadequate funding, but warned the state should not renege on infrastructure investments, which he said could make the state less desirable to new residents and business owners.
Lavielle agreed transportation should be a priority, but said the state’s dwindling budget demands prioritization of transportation projects with high safety and operational concerns.
“You cannot have everything you want when you don’t have the money to pay for it,” the Republican said.
Hear from the legislators
The Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce and Connecticut Business & Industry Association (CBIA) will co-host a legislative update with state representatives and senators on Jan. 24. in the Westport Library at 9 a.m.
The state government collects enough taxes to deliver the necessary transportation infrastructure, but expensive state employee labor agreements suck money from critical transportation investments, Hwang said. He advocated reallocating resources to transportation instead of adding a toll system, which he called another tax.
“I know it seems patently unfair, but southwestern Connecticut is a huge economic engine and if we’re not making appropriate, proportionate investment to that infrastructure, we’re going to suffer because the rest of the state will suffer,” Hwang said about the importance of infrastructure investments in Fairfield County.
In order to reduce the state’s budget crisis, Lavielle advised against tax hikes.
“The people with the greatest resources are mobile, and if you push them too much on the tax issue, they will go,” Lavielle said, noting the state is losing residents, especially those with resources. The average income of those leaving the state is $123,000, she said.
Hwang said he’s optimistic the Legislature can reduce the budget crisis by “challenging some of the fiat leadership methodology of this governor” and revisiting the state’s labor agreements.
The state’s financial issues stem from decades of bad fiscal decisions, Steinberg said, but can be improved through improving the state’s image.
“Perception and reality both matter. Until we convince businesses and individuals we’ve got our act together, can create a balanced budget without billion-dollar deficits and are a good place to do business, live and retire, we’re going to continue to have these problems,” Steinberg said.
State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-26, did not attend the dinner.