Affordable housing, rising energy costs, balancing revenues with expenditures and women’s reproductive rights were topics wrangled by state Rep. Tom O’Dea (R-125) and his Democratic challenger Victor Alvarez during a League of Women Voters candidates’ debate on Oct. 20 at Town Hall.
The evening featured debates for five races – including three races in the state House of Representative and two races in the State Senate – including the race between Alvarez and O’Dea for House District 125, which includes Darien, New Canaan and Stamford.
On the topic of the state’s controversial 8-30g affordable housing statute, both candidates agreed that the law doesn’t achieve its intended goal and needs to be overhauled.
“Since 2016, I have been on record about being against over development,” said Alvarez, a New Canaan resident and businessman who has been a member of the town’s board of finance since 2020. “When I was the condo board president, in the condos next to The Vue, on Park Street, in New Canaan, I vehemently opposed this project, by speaking at P&Z meetings. The project removed 38 units of naturally occurring affordable housing and replaced them with over 100 very expensive units. The developer got the P&Z approval by threatening the town with a large affordable housing project in its place.
“I preferred affordable housing,” Alvarez continued. “My opposition was based on the scale, the look and the expensive prices of the individual units.”
“I think most of us agree that providing affordable housing in town strengthens our community,” Alvarez said. “But we’ve had 8-30g since 1989 and it hasn’t changed. It needs to be fixed.”
“I would change [8-30g’s] threshold percentage from 10% to 5% for Fairfield County suburban towns,” Alvarez said. “I would offer property owners tax incentives for deed restricting their rental properties, including their accessory dwelling units.”
Alvarez said that under 8-30g, “even when developers are in position to circumvent the local P&Z board, they are still subject to certain rules – like coverage and setbacks.”
O’Dea, a New Canaan resident and attorney who has held House District 125 for the past 10 years, said during that time, “Republicans have proposed many changes to 8-30g.”
“It has been in place for decades,” he said of the law. “It’s a one-size-fits-all policy that doesn’t work. It requires 10% affordable housing and that should not be the case.”
O’Dea said New Canaan has done a good job of trying to address affordable housing.
“[Former P&Z Commissioner] Laszlo Papp instituted the fee attached to every building permit to raise money to have affordable housing built and renovated,” he said. “[New Canaan has] renovated all of our affordable housing stock over the last 5-10 years – and we’ve doubled our affordable housing stock.”
“8-30g is being used by predatory builders to increase their profits,” O’Dea said. “So, we need to fight 8-30g proposals – including the one on Weed Street.”
“We need to figure out a solution to our affordable housing issues,” O’Dea added. “8-30g does not solve that. All it does is put money in the pockets of developers. It does not encourage putting in affordable housing.”
On the topic of abortion, both candidates said they would protect a woman’s right to choose – but Alvarez tried to cast doubt on O’Dea’s commitment to keeping the current abortion laws intact.
“I definitely support Connecticut’s position on [women’s reproductive rights],” Alvarez said. “Abortion feels safer now in Connecticut – but we can’t take this or any rights for granted. The Supreme Court’s move to overturn Roe v Wade is the beginning of restrictions – not the end.”
“Since 2014, Republicans have voted to erode Connecticut’s abortion laws over 30 times,” Alvarez said. “For example, they promote crisis pregnancy centers that masquerade as abortion clinics, but which actually talk women out of getting abortions.”
“I will do everything in my power to safeguard Connecticut’s sensible abortion laws,” Alvarez said. “I will support providing increased security at Connecticut’s abortion clinics.”
“My opponent voted ‘no’ on the only abortion-related bill that came before him in the 2022 legislative session,” he added. “It protects Connecticut abortion providers from politically motivated out of state lawsuits. I would have voted ‘yes.’”
O’Dea said he agrees with Connecticut’s current abortion laws and wouldn’t do anything to change them.
“While I am personally pro life, I have lots of friends and relatives who are pro choice, and I have not proposed one piece of legislation to change [the current law],” O’Dea said. “Abortion is not an election issue in Connecticut and will not be.”
O’Dea said he voted against a recent bill “that expanded the access of abortions to non-doctors” because he was concerned that it “didn’t help women” and in instead “could hurt women.”
“My opponent just admitted that he is against abortion and that he voted against the only abortion law that went before him in the 2022 legislative session,” Alvarez said. “Normally, Republicans support the blocking of bogus lawsuits that increase costs for providers and health care recipients. But I believe my opponent voted ‘no’ to this particular law for political reasons. He’s hiding behind safe abortions but we’re talking about licensed professionals – not unsafe access to healthcare.”
When asked what he would do to help hold down rising energy costs, Alvarez said he thinks the state should take some of the $5.4 billion in infrastructure money coming to Connecticut from the federal government “and invest it in improving our infrastructure related to the transmission and distribution of electricity.”
“Our reliance on fossil fuels that are supposed to make energy more affordable has resulted in increased volatility and made our problems worse, especially with the recent invasion of Ukraine,” Alvarez said, adding that utility prices in Connecticut are about 32% higher than the national average. “We suffer from transmission congestion. Connecticut’s peak electricity demand has grown faster than the state’s infrastructure or power plants.”
O’Dea said the Connecticut state legislature recently enacted legislation that requires the state to follow the same emissions standards as California, which is planning to phase out all fossil fuel vehicles by 2035.
“I will tell you that not a single Republican voted for legislation that passed in Connecticut to follow California’s emissions standards,” O’Dea said. “Most of the time, legislation is bipartisan; this was a case where it was not. The majority forced through legislation that required us to follow the emissions standards of California. We all know that California’s prices are outrageous. Literally, California said ‘we are going to do away with fossil fuel vehicles’ – and on the same day they said ‘sorry we don’t have enough power to charge your cars.’”
“I proposed legislation, year after year, to allow private investors to come in and build community solar – and every year the Democrats and the unions fight that legislation,” O’Dea said. “I’m hopeful that if we get [enough Republicans in office] … my legislation to promote community solar will pass.”
“My opponent had five laws come before him, over the last two years, that were for regulating emissions, and he voted ‘no’ all five times,” Alvarez said in his rebuttal. “He sits on the Environment Committee of the House of Representatives. I’m a little baffled by that. I feel like he doesn’t take seriously that emissions pollute and that it is a direct cause of climate change.”
O’Dea countered that he believes in alternative sources of energy including solar.
“But we need other sources of energy,” he said. “Natural gas vehicles are a great thing. Unfortunately, the majority [in the state legislature] is now outlawing natural gas vehicles – after [the City of ] Norwalk spent millions of dollars purchasing natural gas vehicles. This administration and the legislature ended incentives for putting in more natural gas in throughout the state. We need fuel vehicles until we can generate enough [power from alternative sources].”
On the topic of balancing revenues with expenditures, Alvarez said “the recent jobs outlook in Connecticut is on the upswing – but it is critical for the health of our economy that we attract businesses – because companies moving to the state materially increases our tax revenues.”
“I would attract companies to Connecticut by expanding the research and development tax credit to reward companies that relocate here and generate new products through innovation,” Alvarez said. “I would underwrite job training programs through the Office of Workforce Strategy, to provide entry level skills for jobs with a future in healthcare, technology, clean energy infrastructure, bioscience and manufacturing, because this will attract companies to Connecticut and increase our revenues.”
O’Dea agreed that the path to increasing revenues is to attract more businesses to the state.
“Over the last ten years that I’ve been in office, the CBIA has given me a 100% ranking on growing small business,” O’Dea said. “We have less jobs now than we did in 2008. We need to make Connecticut more affordable. Gov. Lamont was correct when he said it was too hard to start a business in Connecticut – and that’s why his wife was starting a business in Tennessee. And our unfunded debt has gone from $75 billion two years ago to $95 billion now.”
O’Dea said if reelected he would propose an across-the-board budget cut for all state departments.
“For $500 million or less [in tax cuts], we could make Connecticut one of the greatest places in the country to retire,” O’Dea said. “By eliminating the tax on pensions, eliminating the tax on social security, and eliminating the estate tax. That will increase our revenue and make people stay in Connecticut long term. It will also increase our property values dramatically.”
In addition to growing private sector jobs in order to increase revenues, the state also needs to cut back its expenses, O’Dea said.
“We have one of the highest paid public sectors in the country,” he said. “We’re one of the only states where a public sector worker makes more than a private sector worker for the same job.”
“We have great public sector workers – but we cannot afford to keep increasing the rate by 5% – and we cannot keep giving bonuses like we have been.”
Both candidates agreed that early voting should be implemented in Connecticut – and that it can be achieved via the existing absentee ballot system.
“I support no excuse absentee balloting – I voted on it and that will eventually become part of our constitution,” O’Dea said. “And that will allow anybody to vote for any reason by absentee.”
“I do believe though, we need to secure our absentee ballots,” O’Dea added. “The Democratic Town Committee chair from Stamford last month was convicted of 28 felon accounts of fraud – because of harvesting absentee ballots. We have to do more to secure those absentee ballots. I also believe people need to show picture ID to vote.”
Alvarez said considering 46 states already have early voting provisions it is embarrassing that Connecticut is one of the four states that doesn’t.”
“Life is complicated – one day is easy to miss – your child gets sick – you miss the train – you’re called downtown at the last minute – we need to find balance between making voting accessible for people while protecting our election process,” Alvarez said. “I voted ‘yes’ on the ballot question – I gave legislators the right to deliberate over what such a system might be. It doesn’t guarantee it will happen; it just starts the conversation.”
“I would support a modest period of early voting – say, three days including one weekend day,” he said. “This gives some flexibility to voters – but also respects election workers’ bandwidth. I also support removing barriers to absentee voting to all people who are legally eligible to vote.”
“But I also note that Connecticut has a rigorous and effective election audit process that detects instances of fraud,” Alvarez added. “The biggest threat to our election system is when a losing candidate launches baseless claims that fraud occurred, when in fact, it did not.”
The debate, which was broadcast only, was moderated by students from New Canaan High School.
[Comments are disabled on this article. This article has been updated to more accurately reflect one of the candidates comments regarding affordable housing.]