Connecticut's budget woes dominate at Fairfield debate
Published 2:21 pm, Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Discussion at the Fairfield League of Women Voters candidate forum Monday focused squarely on fiscal policy and job creation, as it has throughout the election season, both on the state and national level.
Candidates for the town's three state representative seats and the state senator seat talked about how they plan to bring jobs to Connecticut, balance a budget facing a $3.5 billion deficit and work together to create a more productive political environment during the event at the Fairfield Public Library, which drew a capacity crowd of more than 100 people.
On the representative level, the debate featured the candidates for three seats: incumbent Democratic state Rep. Thomas Drew and his Republican opponent in the 132nd District, Brenda Kupchick; incumbent Democratic state Rep. Kim Fawcett and her Republican opponent in the 133rd District (which also includes parts of Westport), DeeDee Brandt; and incumbent Republican state Rep. Tony Hwang and his Democratic opponent in the 134th District (including part of Trumbull), Michael Murren. Incumbent Republican state Sen. John McKinney and his Democratic opponent in the multi-town 28th Senate District, Mitchell Fuchs, also participated.
Republican Probate Judge Daniel Caruso, and his opponent, Democrat Pamela Jones, were each given two minutes to deliver a statement to the Fairfield voters. Caruso, who has held the position since 1995, said his experience has shown he is the right person to keep the job. Jones, a lawyer who focuses on contract law, said she will bring new ideas and openness to the position.
With six House of Representatives candidates on hand for the debate and a limited amount of time for each to speak, only two questions from the audience were addressed by the contenders, despite multiple questions being submitted by attendees.
The first question addressed was how to balance the state budget and the second asked the candidates how they would promote job creation. The debate was moderated by former state League of Women Voters president, Kiki Karpen.
Fawcett and Brandt go toe-to-toe again
The back-and-forth between Fawcett and Brandt, who squared off less than a week ago in a debate sponsored by the League of Women Voter of Westport, was the most heated.
Brandt called into question Fawcett's voting record on the state budget, accusing her of casting contradictory votes and confusing the public. Fawcett responded by saying the votes were very different and that Brandt does not understand the process. She said she voted against the main state budget and then for adjustments to that budget, which she said are two "extraordinarily different votes."
On the issue of jobs, Brandt said Fawcett's actions have helped to dissuade businesses from staying in Connecticut or moving here. Brandt held up a Connecticut Business and Industry Association survey filled out by Fawcett that she said revealed her opponent's support for raising taxes, even the gas tax, and possibly adding tolls on state highways in certain circumstances. Fawcett said that Brandt was "manipulating the information," to the point she did not even know what she was talking about. Brandt, however, pulled out various charts and a Fawcett press release that she said backed up her claims.
Fawcett and Brandt also faced-off on campaign finance reform. Brandt, who was on the attack most of the night, accused Fawcett for flip-flopping when voting on public financing for the governor's race. Brandt said Fawcett had originally voted not to boost public funding for governor candidates by $3 million during the initial budget votes, but then decided to vote for the increase after the primary. The overriding issue there: many state Republicans, including Brandt, have questioned whether or not Democrats chose to allow the funding because Democratic candidate Dan Malloy does not have the same funds available as Republican candidate Tom Foley. Fawcett denied that assertion and said the circumstances had changed because of a state Supreme Court ruling that affected the future of public financing in the state and changes to the bill during its process.
Regarding the public financing that Fawcett herself has used, Brandt said the Democratic incumbent had spent the money on campaign mailings that Brandt believes are attacks against her. "Tax money should be used to give information, not attack pieces in the mail," she said.
Brandt was not the only one throwing elbows, as Fawcett called into question the former Board of Finance member's voting record on town budget issues. She said Brandt had helped increase town spending by $97 million, voting seven times for a spending increase and not even showing up once for a vote on the budget during her eight years on the finance board. Brandt attempted to respond, but was cut off by the moderator, Karpen, because time was up.
During her final statement, Brandt said she has seen many young adults she knows who are unable to find jobs that use their skills and are forced to work part-time jobs at places like Borders and EMS. Meanwhile, she said, the state General Assembly has refused to rein in spending and has passed legislation that has driven jobs out of state. That was a "tipping point for me," leading her to make a run for the legislature.
Fawcett said all candidates agree, "We need to live within our means, cut government spending and create jobs." But election, she said, is a "referendum on who you think is best equipped to have an impact on your behalf and our town's behalf." She said her four years of experience as a state representative has shown her to be the best candidate to do that.
Kupchick and Drew call for change
Drew faced a tough challenge from Kupchick, who claimed that voters should support her candidacy because it is time for change. Kupchick, a member of the Fairfield Representative Town Meeting, focused on the issue of a politically imbalanced state House, with Democrats holding a "super" majority, asserting the lack of differing opinions at the capital is not healthy for democracy and has contributed to many problems facing the state. She said the imbalance needs to change because "Hartford is ignoring the voices of Fairfield and the state."
The Republican added that "I'm not running against Tom. I'm running against a super majority ... Tom is a nice man, but simply put, Tom has not been effective in making the difficult decisions needed to turn this economy around."
Drew said he has worked hard for the people of Fairfield and believes he has what it takes to lead a bipartisan effort to help the state move forward. Drew said he will help to "fundamentally change the state government, which the public badly needs."
"I know people are very tired of politicians fighting with each other. I don't care what political party you are in. I care what your ideas are and that you are on the side of regular people," he said, touting his effort to establish a network of moderate Democrats. "I made a promise I would act with independence and bipartisanship, and I walked the walk on my very first day," said Drew, who called upon his vow to stop special interest groups from running the capital.
Drew said he has asked for a new office of state inspector general to be established to help stop corruption in all aspects of state government. Kupchick challenged that suggestion, saying that Drew as an incumbent should have worked to make that change. "Why wasn't it done then?" she said. Drew responded that he has pushed for it since his first day in office, but there are opponents on both side of the aisle, not just Democrats.
Hwang and Murren discuss state services
Hwang and Murren both said they would need to make hard decisions to help balance the budget. Murren called for privatizing services in the state, a suggestion echoed by most candidates, especially in terms of senior health services, mental health care for children and the prison system. "The constituents are having a real hard time," Murren said. "I can sit up here and say when elected ... I won't vote for the budget that isn't a smaller budget. I won't raise taxes and I won't vote for anything that isn't good for seniors."
Hwang agreed that nonprofit social service agencies need support and that privatization has potential for real savings, since they tend to provide the care at less of cost than the state can. He said the places like the Kennedy Center in Bridgeport are "gems of the community," deserving of support. It is important to find out which government agencies bring value to the community, he said, and to eliminate positions that do not bring value. "We need to end waste, cronyism and entitlement in government," Hwang said.
He also said that state agencies have grown far too large, with each department having multiple deputy commissioners who are unnecessary. For example, Hwang said he gathered the Department of Transportation deputies together and asked them to details what their jobs are, a question he said was met by many "blank stares."
On the issue of jobs, Murren, who owns a Fairfield-based insurance agency, said there needs to be more "streamlining" and less "red tape" to encourage people to start their own businesses in Connecticut. He said the state needs to show that it is "open for business."
Hwang said there need to be lower taxes and fees, different mandates for different industries rather than a "one size fits all" approach and an effort by the state to reach out to businesses and invite them to come here.
Senate candidates share key points
McKinney and Fuchs agreed on many points, both saying that they would work to bring jobs to the state by reaching out to businesses and creating a better environment for them.
The incumbent, McKinney said it is important to eliminate "waste and inefficiency" in government. In terms of the budget, McKinney said the state needs a "flat-funded" budget that starts each agency's spending at zero and bases funding on what the agency deserves, not what it has had in the past. He also called for consolidation of state agencies that are doing essentially the same jobs and for turning over some responsibilities to non-profits. McKinney said the state needs to cut back on regulations and taxes that discourage businesses from operating in Connecticut. McKinney said the state's major issues "are solved by sitting down with one another," he said. "We solve them by stopping being Republicans and Democrats and being leaders. We solve them by stopping talking at each other and talking with each other."
Fuchs, the former chairman of the Democratic Town Committee in Fairfield, said creating jobs is the way to solve the budget crisis, not by cutting. "We need to get more companies to build here, to manufacture here," he said. Fuchs said solving the deficit is "not something you can just snap your fingers and simply do. We need to invest in our community," he said. Fuchs also said "working together to solve our problems ... not to throw stones, not to cast blame, but to get in the ditches and really work out what our problems are and look for solutions. We need to find drastically new ideas."