[A message from the League of Women Voters of New Canaan: If you or any friends couldn’t attend Candidates Night on Tuesday at New Canaan High School, please check the Channel 79 website (www.nctv79.org) for the viewing schedule beginning Friday morning, Oct. 24th.]
While an across-the-board tax cut is not in order, Connecticut could reduce how much it spends on incarcerating perpetrators of nonviolent crimes, a challenger for the 125th District state House seat said Tuesday.
The money used to incarcerate them would be better spent on education and “keeping one prisoner incarcerated could be used to pay for 20 students’ college education,” town resident and Green Party candidate David Bedell, who last week received an endorsement from the Connecticut Police & Fire Union, said during a “Meet the Candidates” forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters of New Canaan.
“Right now we have a lot of people incarcerated on drug crimes,” Bedell said during the 2-hour event, held in the Wagner Room at New Canaan High School. “I think we could view the abuse of drugs as a public health problem and not a criminal justice problem. I would be in favor of following the examples of Colorado and Washington state: Legalize marijuana and regulate it to keep it out of the hands of our children.”
Some 60 people attended the forum, moderated by New Canaan’s Susan LaPerla and co-sponsored by the New Canaan Advertiser. The question-and-answer session was divided into two parts, one for candidates for state Senate seats—see our roundup here—and one for the state House.
Joining Bedell in front of the room were: the incumbent that he’s challenging, New Canaan resident and former Town Council member state Rep. Tom O’Dea (R-125), whose district includes parts of New Canaan and Wilton; Norwalk Democrat Andy Garfunkel, who is making a bid for the 142nd House district seat now occupied by Larry Cafero; and Norwalk Republican Fred Wilms, also challenging for the 142nd. In a highly civilized debate with no sniping and disagreeing points of view made politely, the candidates responded to questions about Connecticut’s achievement gap, energy expense, transportation and taxes.
O’Dea, in responding to a question about Connecticut’s recent, largest-ever tax increase—“What specifically should be cut from the state budget and do you favor an across-the-board tax cut?”—said that he agreed with some of what Bedell said regarding spending on the criminal justice system, and that he also would support an across-the-board cut.
The New Canaanite said he proposed a 10 percent tax cut two years ago and, now, would make it “closer to 20 [percent], to be honest.”
“The problems we have now in Hartford are a spending problem,” O’Dea said.
Hartford has “increased spending dramatically over the last number of years” and needs to cut now because the state has “a spending problem and a taxing problem.”
Garfunkel described Connecticut’s problem as balancing the need to invest in infrastructure while paying off debt, and said that, if elected, he would look line-by-line at where cuts could be made.
“I am in favor of real estate tax reform at the state level so that we in the municipalities and around the cities can feel a little bit of difference in how we pay our taxes and or how much we are going to be taxed and not rely on so much on the real estate tax,” Garfunkel said. “There are other ways for the state to make revenues, instead of committing so much in tax-cutting, we need to look at how we entice people to spend their money here in the state of CT whether it’s in the tolls on our thruways, for out-of-state vehicles especially truck traffic, we can look at high-speed rails, we can look at freight lines, we can look at ports in Brigeport and New Haven to move freight.”
Wilms, noting that he chaired Norwalk’s finance board for eight years, and that the city has a AAA bond rating, said one thing officials there did was re-negotiate union contracts to control benefits spending in areas such as pension, healthcare and OPEB.
“We need to do the same with the state, the state has over $50 million in unfunded benefit liabilities and in my mind that would be the best place to start,” Wilms said. “I also believe that when we are up here, we have a responsibility to tell you which line items we would cut.”