Milford’s candidates for state seats discuss spending, business and education

Candidates running for state offices to represent Milford attended a forum last week, introducing themselves to local business representatives and answering questions on issues ranging from the state budget to education.

The Legislative Action Committee of the Milford Regional Chamber of Commerce hosted the forum at Milford Hospital last Wednesday morning. All of the candidates for state Representative 117th, 118th and 119th districts, and the state Senate 14th district, attended.

After introducing themselves, the candidates fielded questions from the moderator, Marshall Collins.

The 119th district candidates were asked how they would balance the budget.

Democrat Ben Gettinger, said he would prioritize spending and look for waste. For example, he said that as an attorney, he interacts with the judicial branch of the government.

“Every court case I’m on I gets tons and tons of paper sent out,” Gettinger said. “With technology, I think that’s a waste.”

He said going paperless would save money in terms of paper supplies and postage.

“And that’s just one simple example of the inefficiencies we have in government,” Gettinger said.

His opponent, the incumbent Republican Pam Staneski, referred to her party’s “pathway to sustainability.” She said the state needs to reduce borrowing, reprioritize state bond projects and cap the dollar amount for state bond projects.

She also said the state needs to realign state employee benefits and salaries with the private sector.

“We need to reduce fraud and Medicaid costs by eradicating abuse by providers and their patients,” Staneski added. “We need to reduce discretionary spending by reprioritizing spending on non-entitlement programs and providing meaningful tax relief by rolling back the recent tax increases and restoring tax credits.”

Candidates for the 117th District Sean Ronan, Democrat, and the incumbent Republican Charles Ferraro, fielded a question about how they would grow the economy in the state.

Ronan, answering first, said he would look at regulations, possibly de-regulating.

“We need to streamline the process for businesses to come to Connecticut and stay in Connecticut,” he said.

Ronan said he would look toward getting more green energy companies here.

“But first we have to keep the businesses that are here,” he said, noting the recent deal with Sikorsky as a positive move.

“We need to keep doing this,” Ronan said. “Under the Republican caucus, with capping bond spending, we wouldn’t have been able to do that, keep Sikorsky here.”

Ferraro referred to his experience as a businessman when he said economics is not favorable to small business in Connecticut.

He cited statists, saying Forbes lists Connecticut 47th in the country in terms of its business environment; other publications list the state 47th in terms of the cost of doing business and 50th in the nation for states to retire to.

“We didn’t get there overnight,” Ferraro said, adding that policies have been in place too long and are contributing to the stagnant environment. He said regulations and taxes, including the business entity tax which he said is “absolutely useless for small businesses,” are making life difficult for business owners.

Raising the minimum wage and mandatory family leave has the potential to further hurt the business climate, he said.

“We need to make the environment less toxic for businesses in Connecticut,” Ferraro said.

The candidates for the 118th District, incumbent Democrat Kim Rose and her Republican challenger Rick Varrone, were asked how they would offer municipal relief if the state cuts the amount of money it allocates to municipalities, taking into account mandates that require municipalities to spend money.

Rose said the question was difficult to answer without referencing a specific mandate, but she said in general her job is to advocate for money for the district she represents. She said she and fellow Democrat Gayle Slossberg “have been extremely proactive in working with leadership and with the governor’s office” to bring money to Milford. She mentioned the more than $1 million, plus Education Cost Sharing (ECS) funds, that Milford received from the state, which she said allowed the City of Milford to reduce taxes slightly during the latest budget deliberations.

She said Democrats also are looking at a proposal that would redirect some of the sales tax funds to municipalities.

“We’re home to many, many retail stores that require city services,” Rose said. “We have police and fire that have to respond to the mall. And some of that sales tax money could be redirected to Milford.”

Varrone said the state needs to look at structural changes to free up money for mandates.

“When we are borrowing money to pay for borrowed money that we borrowed to pay our bills because we’re not responsible in our spending, then when we start looking at the municipalities and what we’re going to fund for them we have a problem because we don’t have the money to  do that,” Varrone said.

He said “spending at the top” on bonuses and “bronze statues and murals that probably are unnecessary” cost the state millions of dollars that could be benefiting citizens.

Gayle Slossberg, incumbent Democrat in the 14th District Senatorial seat, and her opponent Pat Libero, Republican, both have strong ties to education: Slossberg is chair of the General Assembly’s education committee and Libero is a former teacher, principal and school administrator in West Haven. Both had a lot to say about a recent ruling regarding the Education Cost Sharing formula, which the state uses to determine how much each municipality gets from the state toward its school budget.

The debate moderator asked them, in light of a recent court ruling that directs to state to revise its education funding system, what the impact might be if the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula changes.

Libero said she believes too much of the budget relies on projected revenue that might not be realized.

“That’s what we do at the state,” she said. “We talk about how much money will come in and we don’t have that in hand. That doesn’t help us.”

She said education and funding education is a complex issue, and while she is a big proponent of special education, having taught special education, she said one child who has to be outplaced to a different school system could cost the home district $116,000. Those costs need to be discussed, and perhaps more regionalization and pooling of services pursued. She said she also believes in programs for the academically talented.

“There are so many facets to education and how you budget for it,” Libero said.

Slossberg began by saying that the state is appealing the recent ECS ruling. She said the way the state funds education is very complicated, with 11 different formulas for determining funding amounts.

Because of past court decisions, the state may send a student from Hartford to a magnet school in another district, and the state pays Hartford and the other community for that child’s education. “So we are paying twice for that same student,” Slossberg said.

But she said that reducing funding to Hartford would cause big problems.

The state is obligated to provide each student a quality education, but “money is not always the answer,” she said.

Slossberg said the state is collecting data to determine how much education costs in various parts of the state.

“Once we have data, then we can reallocate dollars,” she said, adding, “I think we have to take the system back to zero and and rebuild it because it is so complicated.

“The most important thing we can do is support our teachers,” Slossberg said. “Our teachers in our schools need to be supported. We have to stop this climate of of test and punish and we have to help our teachers be the great professionals they are.”