ELECTION 2016: Fairfield state reps battle it out one last time
Published 10:30 pm, Wednesday, November 2, 2016
FAIRFIELD —Candidates for the town’s three state representative seats had a chance to make the case for their election at a League of Women Voters forum Wednesday.
Unlike the national presidential debates, these exchanges were polite and civil, with the candidates often finding themselves in agreement on the issues, if not the solutions. Questions were culled from written suggestions from the audience.
Sate Rep. Laura Devlin, R-Fairfield, and her opponent in the 134th, Trumbull resident Fred Garrity, were asked if they would support legislation to reduce taxes on individuals with over $2 million in wealth, a tax the question said prompts many residents to leave or live elsewhere six months out of the year.
“Unlike some of my counterparts, I think taxing is bad,” Garrity said. “We need to fix the tax structure, not just for seniors and people at the end of life, but also for small businesses” He said the tax structure is broken.
“ I support better and smarter spending,” Garrity said. “We need to fix our priorities in that budget process. We’re in a budgetary crisis mode.”
That tax, Devlin, who is looking for a second term in Hartford, should be repealed. “This is an easy, easy fix,” Devlin said. “It’s one that would say, ‘we want you to stay.’”
Just one hedge fund manager moving out of state, she said, has a “huge” impact on the state and the budget. “It’s not a big line item in the budget, but it’s a big issue for the people we’re pushing out of our state.”
Devlin, who said she has signed a peldge to not increase taxes, said she is seeking re-election because she cares about the community, and the state. “It is challenging here, no doubt,” Devlin said, “and that’s why I got involved. I was concerned about the direction in which our state was headed.”
She said over 90 percent of legislation passed in Hartford is passed in bipartisan way. “There’s about 10 percent where we totally don’t, and that generally centers on how we spend your money.” Taxes and affordability, jobs and the economy, and transportation are the top issues people are concerned about, Devlin said. “We’ve got to return to common sense budgeting.”
Garrity said he first got involved in local government about 15 years, when as a union president, he dealt with a plant closing, and helped to save 700 jobs.
“One of the things I learned is that working together is one of the most important things,” he said. Serving on the Trumbull Planning and Zoning Commission, “I’ve been successful in bringing tens of millions of dollars of development into the area.”
Garrity said he speaks his mind. “I want to get things done,” he said, noting that in her first term in the legislature, Devlin voted 662 times along party lines. “So, there’s a different definition of working together.”
In the 133rd District, incumbent Democrat Cristin McCarthy Vahey said it is critical that senior citizens be able to afford to stay here.
“One initiative, which is bipartisan, is to remove the tax on Social Security,” she said. “Many of us last night were at a hearing on an affordable housing project being proposed. We need a diversity of housing stock.”
A social worker by profession, Vahey said homes are needed that are not only affordable, but also accessible, to allow residents to age in place. “As we look at these multi-family applications, they need to be done in a way that’s in concert with our neighborhoods.” she said.
Vahey said she has suggested the creation of a blue ribbon task force at the state level to look at affordable housing issues.
Republican challenger Ray Neuberger, who serves on the Representative Town Meeting, said he certainly supports eliminating the state tax on Social Security income and affordable housing for seniors.
“All too often, I hear from seniors that they can’t afford to stay here,” Neuberger said. “It’s a problem we all face across the board.” He said the state needs to take control of property taxes. “One of the biggest complaints I hear, when you live on a fixed income, it’s very difficult to afford to stay in a town like Fairfield. I think we really need to balance our budget so we can afford to allocate money where it needs to be allocated.”
Neuberger admitted at the end of the forum that he didn’t think he did a very good job of expressing what he wants to do when he gets to Hartford. “I really want to balance our budget” he said. “It’s critical.”
He said he was disappointed that during the last two years, the state legislature just couldn’t get together and mentioned the decision by General Electric to pull its corporate headquarters out of Fairfield, and out of Connecticut.
“There’s so many rules and regulations that face people that are trying to start a new business,” Neuberger said, including 52 different forms that need to be filled out. “Let’s get money and revenue back in our coffers.” he said. “Once we get that revenue, and curtail spending, we’ll be on our way.”
Seeking her second term in Hartford, Vahey, a former RTM member, said, she’s running for re-election because “I love the people and places of our community.” Vahey said she “championed” work that led to $3.5 million in health insurance savings for the town’s Board of Education.
Vahey said there has been an “unprecedented” lack of civility on a national level, and that she uses her skills and training as a social worker to try and reach a consensus.
“With your support, I will continue to fight for economic development and job creation, education and transportation, and advocate for wise investments and fiscal responsibility.
As a ranking member of the legislative Housing Committee, incumbent Brenda Kupchick, R-132, said she has a long history of being involved in housing issues when asked what amendments would she support to 8-30(g) — the statute meant to boost affordable housing
The law, she said, “was developed with a lot of good thought in mind. It was to ensure that the state of Connecticut provide affordable housing for people who need it.” The issue, Kupchick said, is that the law as written 30 years ago and has “become a hammer in some towns.”
“Developers who are looking to develop 8-30(g) aren’t looking to develop them in affordable ares of the state, “ she said, “they’re looking at Fairfield County.”
Kupchick said its not a matter of disagreeing with the law, “we just think it should be modified.”
Her opponent, Democrat Dru Georgiadis, another RTM member, said no town should have to live up to mandates passed down by the state.
“This 8-30(g) hasn’t been updated, and I have to ask why,” Georgiadis said, adding there are probably 77 unfunded state mandates. Under the statute, towns must have 10 percent of their housing stock as “affordable” in order to not be subject to the law; Fairfield is at about 2 percent.
“Fairfield is a very densely populated town,” she said. “The places it can occur in town are very restricted. Therefore they force it into locations where the neighbors don’t want it.”
One rule, Georgiadis said, does not fit all.
“For the past 25 years, I’ve been a member of the community and given back in a non-partisan way,” Georgiadis said. “Recognition is not my motivation.”
She said affordability is one everyone’s mind. “We need to keep our citizens, young and old, here in Connecticut.” If elected, Georgiadis said she will push for greater accountability and Fairfield’s fair share.
“I first ran for office because I was tired of politicians ignoring the people,” Kupchick said. “I saw people were totally frustrated. They don’t like waste or arrogance.”
During her time on the RTM and Board of Education, Kupchick said, “We worked to reopen Ludlowe, we built a third middle school, we built two new elementary schools.”
While the state is facing many challenges, she said, “work on the budget is where bipartisanship ends. They (Democrats) simply didn’t have the courage or willingness to work with the Republicans to solve the problems.”
“I strive to be accessible,” Kupchick said, will continue to fight high taxes and decrease spending.
To view the entire forum, visit http://fairtvonline.org/vwSchedule/stream_gov.aspx