Fairfield legislators see need for bipartisan cooperation on state’s biggest problems
Published 10:56 am, Sunday, January 10, 2016
Fairfield’s state legislators, at a forum sponsored Saturday by the League of Women Voters, were in general agreement that cooperation across political party lines is key to tackling some of the state’s toughest problems.
The forum, staged in advance of the new General Assembly session starting Feb. 3, featured a panel with state Sen. Tony Hwang, R-28, and state Reps. Brenda Kupchick, R-132; Cristin McCarthy-Vahey, D-133, and Laura Devlin, R-134. It was hosted by the local LWV at the Fairfield Museum and History Center.
“I live in a reality of a legislature that’s just not trustworthy,” said Kupchick, explaining why implementing highway tolls — as some state officials have suggested — would be futile if the money raised is not earmarked for transportation.
“We just voted to put in a constitutional lock box on the transportation account … and literally the next bill was to sweep $35 million out of the transportation fund,” she said.
“You sit there in the chamber in stunned disbelief,” Kupchick said. “Are you people insane? How can you possibly do that?”
“You can’t make this stuff up,” Hwang concurred, referring to the legislature’s choice to ignore Medicaid and pension liability as issues unto themselves that need to be addressed. “We’re not being honest with businesses and taxpayers in the state,” he said.
“I don’t trust our government and I’m part of it …,” Kupchick said. “This is part of the problem we’re having, not just here in Connecticut, but nationally. People are sick and tired of being lied to by their elected officials. They’re sick of it and, frankly, I’m sick of it. Tell the truth. Do what you say and don’t lie about it.”
“We have very little say,” resident Walter Domeika commented. “You have a lot of say ... If we can’t trust our government, how can we trust you?”
Yet officials did their best to explain the complexities of working within the political framework, where such big issues as affordable housing have very passionate participants attempting to drive legislation in different directions.
“I’ve never been told how to vote,” said Devlin, explaining how some legislators in other areas have voted on unrelated issues based on funding being channeled into their municipalities in exchange.
“When I go to bed at night I feel good about what I’ve done,” she said, including her local colleagues.
“I think there’s a measure of integrity,” she said. “Look at the votes … We try to do what we say and walk the talk.”
Hwang referenced creating a new “ecosystem” in the state wherein issues can be addressed holistically, including support of businesses and a more practical consolidation of social-service agencies.
“We need to create a system (with) stability, predictability and an environment where businesses are empowered to succeed,” he said, citing the possible move of the GE headquarters from Fairfield as an example of larger problem involving the disenfranchisement of business.
“We definitely have some significant fiscal issues that we’re going to have to address together,” Vahey said. “We’re going to need to prioritize and balance (and) there are going to be difficult conversations in the years ahead.”