117th District: Ferraro — moral compass guides his state initiatives

For state Rep. Charles Ferraro, R-117, there’s a certain symmetry, a set of fixed metrics and guiding principles that dictate his approach to everyday life.

A longtime martial arts instructor and business owner in West Haven, Ferraro said last week that his “moral compass” is very consistent with his work, listing “integrity, honesty, patience and compassion” as the guide posts by which he lives and conducts himself as a state legislator in Hartford.

The two-term state legislator from West Haven is seeking a third term this November as a continuation of a “call to service,” a calling that includes a major effort to visit his constituents in the district that comprises sections of Milford, Orange and West Haven.

“I’ve literally knocked on 7,700 doors” this campaign season, he said, “and talked to close to 4,000” district residents. The message he’s hearing is pretty clear: People are concerned about jobs and their taxes and especially property taxes that disproportionately affects senior citizens on fixed incomes.

Many are saying it’s getting “more and more difficult to stay in their homes and even in Connecticut.” The solutions are not easy in high tax states like Connecticut, he admits. But  Ferraro is optimistic that the state budgetary situation is getting better, witnessed by the most recent state budget passed last spring where enough majority Democrats joined the minority Republicans in eventually passing a state budget that Ferraro called “a step in the right direction.”

Growing up in highly Democratic West Haven, Ferraro admits that if you asked him 10 or 20 years ago if he saw himself running for political office, the answer would have been a resounding no.

The father of two grown children and married to his West Haven High School sweetheart, Geralyn, Ferraro said as a youth he became a boxer at a relatively young age at the urging of his father. “But I didn’t particularly like the idea of standing in the middle of a ring getting hit.”

He did, however, like the idea of learning defensive techniques on how “not to get hit.”

So after learning about the sport of karate, he convinced his reluctant father to allow him to take it up. By the time Ferraro was 16 years old, he had earned his black belt designation. But when he went to regional tournaments, “there was no one else my age.” So he would compete most often with older competitors.

That’s quite a contrast today, he noted, as “now most martial arts schools are filled with kids.”

Ferraro’s political awakening came later in life, the result of the growing polarization of politics of the past decade or so. “Politics was by far the furthest thing in my mind,” he said. But as the political discourse became more and more heated in unhealthy, harmful ways, he said, “I realized that just complaining wasn’t enough. I decided to run for state office.”

So how does a Republican in a decidedly Democratic town like West Haven, win a state race against a popular incumbent?

Rep. Ferraro acknowledged that he was running against someone whom he called “one of the finest guys I know” – former state Rep. Paul Davis of Orange. “We ran a clean campaign focusing on the issues, and I think I caught him off guard.

“Paul may have thought I was just this kid running a karate school. But what he didn’t realize until too late was that since that spring I had already been out knocking on doors and talking to everyone I could in the district.”

That 2014 race came down to a past-midnight hand-count of ballots in the Seth Haley school district in West Haven, necessary due to a ballot system breakdown there. In that district where Democrats outnumbered Republicans by as high as 6-1, Ferraro won by 209 votes, just enough to carry him to a 123-vote upset victory, despite losing his own home West Shore district by a few dozen votes.

Today, Ferraro sits on three state legislative committees: Veterans’ Affairs — where he is the ranking member; Human Services, and Energy & Technology.

Answering the question: Is state government broken in Connecticut? — Ferraro said, “I wouldn’t say it’s broken. But we need a new direction, and I would agree that the overall narrative is more negative than I would like it.”

Despite that, he estimated that 90% of the time members of both parties agree on issues and vote accordingly. But it’s the 10% where there’s controversy, “where real differences in party philosophy and ideologies” lead to disagreements.

As for his first two terms in office, Rep. Ferraro points to accomplishments including supporting legislation for veterans, small businesses, first responders, individuals with disabilities and reforms to affordable housing legislation.

As for a state budget, Ferraro says Connecticut will see deficits back in the “billions — with a ‘b’” in the near future unless significant structural changes are made. On the plus side, he pointed to recent bipartisan legislation that put state spending and bonding caps in place. “I am hopeful we can address [this]” before the deficit balloons out of control again, he said.

As for the highly publicized and controversial debate on returning tolls to Connecticut’s highways, Rep. Ferraro was among those who opposed a $10 million bond funded toll study promoted by outgoing Gov. Dannel Malloy, which eventually did gain approval. He also decried the raiding of the state’s transportation fund resulting from the state’s 14 cents per gallon tax on gasoline.

He praised the state GOP’s “Priority Progress” transportation plan addressing the state’s long-term transportation needs, first published in 2015 and updated this past January that among other strategies calls for reserving a set amount of general obligation bonding to be “solely used for transportation priorities” and the re-establishment of a Transportation Strategy Board to work alongside the state’s Department of Transportation.

Ferraro noted that the plan’s benefits include a guaranteed transportation funding mechanism, requiring no tax increases to support present and future transportation needs and no need for tolls.

The bottom line, he said, is that Connecticut “needs to implement real structural changes in its approach to state spending and taxation,” and from there, the business climate and jobs outlook will improve, which will then reduce the upward pressure on all forms of taxation, including state sales and local property taxes.