Candidates for state offices find little common ground in New Canaan debate
NEW CANAAN — One thing four Republican and four Democratic candidates did seem to agree on was the fiscal mismanagement of the state.
As to the solution? They differed widely.
Candidates squared off in what was a packed house debate hosted by the League of Women Voters in the New Canaan town hall Monday night.
The panel debate was divided into two sessions: the first featured candidates for the state assembly and the second part for the state senate. The candidates, while representing New Canaan at the state level, also represent cities like Greenwich, Stamford, Wilton, Norwalk and Westport.
Rep. Tom O’Dea, R-125, stuck to his message of slashing 20 percent cuts across the board from state departments with the exception of the judiciary and environmental services in addition to a rollback on taxes.
“I would cut the tax on social security and pension, limit the estate and gift tax and those cuts would immediately stabilize the real estate market,” O’Dea said. “Then we can start lowering the income tax and corporate tax to stimulate job growth.”
Fred Wilms, R-142, also pushed on cutting an array of taxes.
Ross Tartell, the first Democratic opponent O’Dea has faced since 2012, said he wouldn’t cut the income tax and focused instead on improving transportation for commuters in New Canaan and Wilton.
Lucy Dathan, Democratic opponent to Wilms, said that cuts to the income tax would have inverse impacts on educational funding.
“Cutting the income tax, which is 60 percent of our budget, would leave schools in a really decimated position. We need to make sure we continue that investment, we cannot make cuts to our education system,” Dathan said.
A fiscal conservative, Democratic candidate for state senate Alexandra Bergstein said she would also eliminate the estate and gift tax and lower the corporate and income tax progressively.
Many attendees, who hailed from surrounding towns like Wilton and Westport came to listen to their candidates’ proposals. Voters from both parties, however, expressed an interest in listening to Will Haskell, the 22-year-old Democrat running against Sen. Toni Boucher, R-26.
Inevitably, the question of tolls came up, an idea that Democratic candidates supported and Republicans opposed though O’Dea has proposed a private-public partnership with an additional tolled lane on each direction of I-95.
“Connecticut is the only state between Maine and North Carolina that doesn’t ask out of state or truck drivers to contribute to the upkeep of our infrastructure,” Haskell. “We’re leaving money on the table at a time when we simply can’t afford to do so.”
Republicans rebuffed and said that tolls would be abused.
“We do not need tolls,” Scott Frantz, R-36, said. “You’re already paying for your roadways, as I’ve said before, through your gas tax, personal income tax and registration fees. You don’t need to pay anymore.”
All candidates also agreed on voting in favor of the proposed “lockbox” amendment which would ostensibly keep allocated monies to transportation in place.
“I agree that the transportation lockbox is necessary but it has a lot of holes in it, we want to make sure it’s for transportation,” Wilms said, also referring to earlier this year when the Department of Transportation was considering making service cuts and fare hikes to the New Canaan line.
The Republican incumbents -- Wilms, O’Dea in the assembly and Boucher and Frantz in the senate -- have experienced more than more than two terms each in the legislature.
Though Republicans are still the minority party in Hartford, the gap between them in the general assembly has gone down considerably in the last decade. Both parties are tied in the senate with 36 seats each while Democrats have a five-seat majority in the lower house.
Boucher, who has been in office for 22 years, alluded to what she called a golden opportunity.
“That tie in the senate is indicative of the first significant changes,” Boucher said. “We’re proud of the work we’ve done.”