Affordable housing, early voting, energy costs, women’s reproductive rights and balancing taxes with state spending were among the many topics discussed when incumbent State Senator Ryan Fazio (R-36th) defended his seat from challenger and political newcomer Trevor Crow (D), during the League of Women Voters New Canaan Candidate Debate held Oct. 20 at Town Hall.
The debate – which was televised only (there was no live audience allowed) and moderated by New Canaan High School students – featured candidates participating in three races in the state House of Representative as well as candidates squaring-off in two races in the state Senate, including the heated race between Fazio and Crow, both of whom are Greenwich residents.
“As soon as I got elected, I went to work across the aisle in order to solve the challenges facing our district,” said Fazio, who was elected State Senator in August 2021, in his opening remarks. “I wrote and passed legislation to improve student mental health. With long term interventions in the schools, that legislation was called by one social psychologist a first in the nation program.
“I also worked collaboratively with my Democratic colleague on the aging committee in order to protect the interests of seniors,” the Greenwich native added. “And I was the only state senator to submit legislation in order to change [affordable housing statute] 8-30g and protect local control of zoning. In the next two years, we must deliver positive change to our district, to improve our economy, protect local control and the public safety for the 36th District [which includes Greenwich, Stamford and New Canaan].”
Crow, who has lived in Fairfield County for 20 years and raised her children here, explained that she grew up in Boston, where she was a competitive figure skater.
“By the time I was 18, I wasn’t landing triples anymore, so I had to go to college,” she said. “I graduated from Wellesley College and went to Wall Street – and I was in sales and trading for five years. After that I went to Harvard and got an MBA. Once my kids got to school, I knew I couldn’t make that commute – so I got another masters degree in marriage and family therapy, [and] for the past 16 years, I’ve been a practicing small business owner therapist, helping families solve problems.”
Crow added that she not only wants to bring her financial and small business expertise to Hartford but also her experience as a therapist: “And doesn’t Hartford need a therapist?” she quipped.
On the topic of 8-30g and affordable housing, Fazio said he was “the only state senator in this term to introduce legislation to change 8-30g to protect local control of our housing and our zoning.”
“That bill was not advanced by the state legislature because the Democratic leadership refuses to change 8-30g and actually wants to advance legislation that will further undermine our local control,” Fazio said, adding that he is a proponent of changing the statute.
“Recently, since I’ve been in office, I met a young family in New Canaan, who lives on Weed Street, who recently moved to this town for all it has to offer, made an investment in a single-family home, in a single-family home neighborhood – because that’s there they wanted to have their family and build their future,” he said. “And then all of the sudden, out of nowhere, a 105-unit development comes to Weed and Elm Street – going around all of the local zoning regulations which are designed to protect the interests of this town, because of state law and because of state leadership that wants to override local control.”
The Democrats, however, have a bill in place “that will effectively double the 8-30g housing mandate,” Fazio said.
“The moratorium process – which New Canaan, even though it does a good job of advancing affordable housing, was recently denied – is too convoluted, and there’s only one or two law firms in the state that actually deal with moratoriums,” Fazio said. “This law has failed our town – it has failed the state. We need to start anew and I have already started down the path of providing the leadership need to make that change.”
“We need leaders in Hartford who will put pen to paper and propose specific legislation to change 8-30g,” Fazio added in a rebuttal. “We also need to change the makeup of the state legislature in order to advance reforms to 8-30g and protect local control of zoning. New Canaan, for the first time in the last four years, has had two Democratic state legislators – part of the majority – and they had their opportunity to reform 8-30g and work with the leadership. As long as we have 65% one-party rule in this state, we will never change 8-30g.”
Crow said she is “not a big proponent of 8-30g” but said something needs to be done to boost the district’s affordable housing stock.
“I know we need to make a change [to 8-30g],” Crow said. “Towns are also being asked to do something called 8-30j – which is their vision of what is reasonable and possible for their towns. Most towns are late [with developing their 8-30j plans] – I am not sure if New Canaan has its 8-30j in. But Greenwich does.”
“I have not knocked on a single door where someone says, ‘No I don’t want a policeman living here,’ or ‘No, I don’t want a teacher living down the street,’ ” Crow added. “Nobody says that, ever. I’d like to be able to see my children move back to the area – but they cannot right now because it is so expensive. I have single-mom friends who cannot afford to live here right now because it costs so much to rent. There has to be a way forward, where we build reasonable housing for all the [people in these] jobs – we need places to put these people. We have a housing crisis right on our doorstep. We need about 25,000 units in Fairfield County.”
When asked if she would change the way the state generates tax revenue – or the way it spends it – Crow said “I believe we could work on getting our taxes down.”
“What I like about the Lamont administration is that they’ve done a very good job with fiscal responsibility and paying down unfunded liabilities,” Crow said. “Because of that, we are paying less – $440 million less in interest rates – and we also have a higher bond rating right now, which is lowering our borrowing costs.”
“The other thing the Lamont administration and the legislature have done is a historic tax cut of $640 million. That has helped families with child tax credits, free buses, gas tax holiday, and seniors get tax free pensions and annuities,” she added. “So, I know we need to tax in order to deliver our services – but I also want to do it in a way that is reasonable – and that we find efficiencies in our government, and find ways so that people don’t feel over-taxed.”
Crow said many young families she speaks with feel Connecticut is cheaper than New Jersey or New York, in terms of what they get in return for their tax dollars. In terms of the state’s “great quality of life, our great education system and families feeling safe here – we are a tax deal,” she said.
Fazio said “Connecticut families are taxed too much already.” He said Connecticut has “the second highest tax burden of any state in the country – second only behind New York.”
“That’s unacceptable,” Fazio said. “It’s no surprise to me that we’ve had the fourth lowest population growth during the past ten years and the fourth lowest rate of economic growth over the last four years.”
“We need to reform our tax system – simplify it – broaden the tax base – in order to reduce income tax rates and retirement income taxes across the board,” Fazio continued. “Retirees tell me, it’s too expensive to retire here. That they’re thinking about leaving the state. That’s not right. We need to make it affordable to age in place here and we need to reduce the tax burden, in order to ensure there is investment in job creation – and to turn around those moving vans.”
When asked what his position was on early voting, Fazio said he believed “voting should be easy, secure and fair.”
“I voted in favor of a law this year – crossing party lines – in order to make it easier to vote via absentee ballot,” he said. “I was criticized by some of my colleagues on the right – but I feel it was the right thing to do.”
“We effectively already have early voting in this state,” Fazio said. “Even now, you can go to the town clerk’s office – during business hours – and vote early and in-person via absentee ballot. I think that is a reasonable accommodation for people who cannot make it to the ballet box on Election Day.
“But this open ended system, where you can have months-long election dates, called early voting, I do not think is reasonable or fair,” he added. “And there are several studies, including from University of Wisconsin, University of Arkansas, and more recently Yale University, that say that early voting does not increase turnout. In part because it de-values the meaning of Election Day in the eyes of voters.”
Crow said she is “absolutely a supporter of early voting.”
“We need at least two to three weeks [for an early voting period],” she said. “If you have kids, you understand that a lot of the time, you cannot make it on that one day – things happen. So, I do believe we need more time to do this.”
“And yes, Ryan is right, we do get to do absentee ballots, today,” she added. “And it has increased, through Covid. We’ve proven we can do this in a good and reasonable way.”
With regard to women’s reproductive rights, Crow said she supports legislation recently enacted by the state to protect the rights of persons both receiving and providing reproductive health care services and to codify access to more reproductive health care service providers.
“I supported this bill 100%, with my entire body,” she said. “We have set ourselves up as a safe haven state. It gives women a chance to have proper health care – and this is a health care issue. It’s also how we are as people: We become second-class citizens if we don’t have bodily autonomy.”
“There are horrible stories out there – of a ten year old who had to travel to another state – in order to obtain the proper health care,” she said. “This is an incredibly important law – and it also makes us competitive: There are companies that are coming to our state because they know their employees can get proper health care.”
Fazio said he supports legal abortion in the state of Connecticut, as does a majority of the Republican state leadership.
“We also need to maintain high health and safety standards for the procedure in the state,” Fazio said. “That’s why I joined 17 Democrats in voting against HB 5414 – that’s the bill in question – because according to at least six independent medical organizations it could, quote, have a disastrous effect on patient safety.”
With regard to rising energy costs, Fazio said that issue is due to “horrible leadership and state policy” in Hartford.
“After 12 years of one-party state government, Connecticut has become unaffordable – and our electricity costs are the highest in the continental United States,” Fazio said. “That’s unacceptable. In part, it’s because we have a horrible utility company in the state.”
“We could do far better to make our energy portfolio affordable, reliable and clean,” Fazio said. “I introduced legislation with colleagues this year to do just that. First is to give more independence and power to the consumer protection agency of the state, PURA, which is currently subordinate to other more political bureaucracies. Second is to simplify the renewable portfolio standards so all forms os clean energy compete on equal playing field against each other in order to find the most affordable source. And third is to examine the 20% of our energy bill that is due to state mandates and taxes, and re-evaluate and rollback those programs that increase your electricity bill by 20%.”
“As long as we have the highest electricity costs in the continental U.S., we have no chance of building manufacturing jobs, supporting small business, keeping retirees here and making our state prosperous and affordable for all people,” Fazio added.
Crow said the states rising energy costs are due mainly to “deregulation, which was a Republican deal, back in the 1990s.”
As a result of that, “we did end up with a monopoly which is doing a not particularly good job.”
“PURA should be on top of them,” Crow said. “Now, we’re making progress, but what we should be doing is pivoting toward renewables. That’s the solution. We should not be relying on natural gas – which we have been doing more so since the 2000s, when we went from oil and coal burning to more natural gas.
“At the time it was a good idea – it was cheap – and we were in a fracking boom,” she said. “But now we are now exporting a lot of our natural gas to Europe because of the Ukraine-Russia war.”
“What we need to do, as quickly as possible, is invest in renewables,” Crow said. “We need to invest in the grid – and distribute part of our regulation over to Eversource – they need to be showing us what they are doing with the grid. Along with metering – a lot of houses are still analog – and once we are in a digital place we can handle the grid better.”
“I’d like to see more wind and more solar,” Crow said, adding that she is also open to nuclear energy.
“It’s a little scary, but it is much cheaper,” she said.
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