The candidates for state representative got a chance to espouse their views at a League of Women Voters Candidates Night on Tuesday, Oct. 23.
The debate in the Darien Town Hall auditorium was hosted by the League of Women Voters in Darien, with LWV Stamford and LWV Norwalk, and was moderated by Kay Maxwell.
The debate featured Democrat Robert Werner and Republican incumbent Terrie Wood, who are seeking the 141st General Assembly District seat, and Republican Nicola Tarzia and Democrat William Tong, who are running for the 147th District seat.
The first question was, "Connecticut has reached a record budget deficit. What is your number one priority in reducing state spending?"
Werner said he doesn't believe that now is the right time to cut spending. "I think the worst thing you can do is cut spending," Werner said. "I believe the government does a pretty good job."
Wood said it's complicated, but she does believe that Connecticut could be more efficient with its spending.
"In the Department of Social Services I've seen tremendous inefficiency, so I think we can tighten up how those programs are delivered," Wood said. "I feel people shouldn't be paid sick leave. We are the only state in the country that gets paid sick leave. We also passed forced unionization, which made the state seem very business unfriendly. I do think we really need to look at where we're going to efficiently spend our dollars."
Tarzia said in order to reduce spending there's going to need to be a balanced budget, and it needs to be balanced equally. He also said more "green" technology is a good idea.
"I'm a big fan of green certified builders and a lot of towns I work with have green infrastructure in their public buildings," Tarzia said. "There's also a lot of money that goes into education. There could be a lot of ways to enhance and curtail our educational costs so it better performs for each district."
Tong said the state had a historic budget deficit of $3.5 billion, but that the gap has been closed. "We did that in a responsible way. It wasn't a popular way in all respects, but we said we have got to cut spending," Tong said.
The gap was closed by $1.6 billion cuts in spending, he said. "The unhappy part of this equation included tax increases, and we said if we were going to have to do that, it couldn't just be loaded on the back of people in District 147 and 141, but we had to spread it across the state, and we did that," Tong said. "We do seriously consider across-the-board cuts to state spending, that is something we must. A 5 percent cut would save close to a billion dollars a year. It's time we had that conversation."
The second question involved whether or not the candidates have any suggestions for alleviating traffic congestion on Interstate 95.
Wood said the state Department of Transportation is in need of a "tremendously dynamic individual to lead it."
"I think you need somebody who's going to turn the agency around," Wood said. "I would also encourage more transportation along the train lines from along the shoreline."
Tarzia thought upping the speed limit to 65 mph from 55 would be helpful as well as getting some of the larger tractor trailers off I-95. "Tractor trailers use all these lanes and it really becomes burdensome to the average traveler," Tarzia said. "The Department of Transportation needs to be revamped, exit ramps on the Merritt are short and dense, and that hurts traffic a lot."
Tong suggested putting in a high-occupancy-vehicle lane as well as congestion pricing along I-95 in the form of an EZpass toll booth. "Maybe it costs more to go through the toll at peak hours, and maybe it costs a lot less for you to come in the middle of the night," Tong said. "Other places across the state have tried dynamic congested pricing. I think we should revisit that when we can."
Werner said traffic is a way of life. "We're Americans, we drive cars," Werner said. "Every major metropolitan in the country has traffic problems."
He did have a few suggestions on how to alleviate some congestion, though. "We can work with some employers to work with flexible hours so people can come home early or go in a little later," Werner said. "I think we can try adjusting meter hours. But there are some things we have to live with."
The next question involved the affordable housing statute and whether or not the candidates supported change.
Tarzia said the statute was unfair. "Darien is being held ransom," Tarzia said. "Darien is already over 90 percent built. Darien is an affluent town, a great educational town. It's a great town for Connecticut, and it shouldn't be held ransom."
Tong borrowed and supported an idea Werner has presented that involves the Town of Darien paying a fine to surrounding cities that are shouldering the burden of affordable housing. "I'd be willing to work with Rob on the issue. I think it's a great idea," Tong said. "The other thing I would do is, I think we need to use our court system in a more judicious way. I think we need to streamline for 830-g disputes so we can expedite those cases, so lawsuits don't raise the cost in the community."
Werner said the statute, called 830-g, is the reason he's running for state representative. "We've been hearing that this law is going to be fixed long before Terrie took office and it hasn't changed," Werner said. "And I think we need a Democrat to change it."
Werner not only wants to have the town pay a fine to the surrounding areas, but he also wants to create incentives for senior housing as part of the 10 percent in affordable housing, and work with municipal leaders to create a program by which municipal employees, specifically teachers and police, can be helped to live in Darien.
"Whether that be a housing subsidy, some help with the mortgage, whatever we can work out with the town," Werner said. "And participants in that program would count towards affordable housing."
Wood wants to create an overlay zone in which developers would be allowed to build. "We brought a bill forward last year and we've gotten some good traction on it to amend 830-g so that it would allow, if a town has an incentive housing zone or overlay zone developers could automatically be given permission within area," Wood said. "And if it was something a Democrat could do on the inside, it would have been done by now."
Wood also plans to put forward another amendment next session so that senior affordable housing counts as one point rather than only half a point, particularly since Darien is an expensive town to live.
The final question was what role the candidates felt was appropriate for state government to have over a person's life.
Tong felt that state government should help where it must. "What I mean by that is when there are priorities, when there are demands on us or on our families or on our economy that we can't meet alone, then the state government should step in and try and help," Tong said. "Right now, obviously our biggest challenge is the state of the economy. Connecticut is hemorrhaging young people more than any other state. We've stabilized our economy and our housing market. We're starting to see recovery and I think that's when the government can step in."
Werner thought it was right for the government to help people.
"Help the poor, educate the uneducated, feed the hungry and help to heal the sick," Werner said. "I believe that. That's what a moral government does."
Wood said the role was split. "I am a Republican because I believe in small government, personal responsibility and personal liberty, and social issues should stay in the bedroom," Wood said. "I believe the government should exist for public safety and public health. I think in the state of Connecticut there are way too many mandates. 830-g is an unfunded mandate and it's too much control, and it's cost the state a lot of money."
Tarzia said sometimes he thinks the government has a bigger play in people's personal lives than need be.
"We need to have more personal responsibility. We're 50th in the country for financial position. Banks are sitting on foreclosed properties. The government should have to work with the banks so that they can help alleviate these foreclosed homes, first-time homebuyers should be involved. There needs to be a little bit more government intervention in that."
email@example.com; 203-972-4407; twitter.com/megdariennews