The race for a state Senate district which includes Ridgefield and part of Bethel features a woman who has served in the legislature for 22-years being challenged by a 22-year old. Republican incumbent Senator Toni Boucher is seeking another term in office. Democrat Will Haskell is looking to unseat her.
Haskell was an intern in Connecticut and Washington, D.C. for 4th District Congressman Jim Himes and U.S. Senator Chris Murphy. Haskell grew up in Westport and started knocking on doors to hear from residents about their concerns. He heard from people frustrated that their train commute to Manhattan takes longer now than it did in the 1950s because Connecticut isn't making long term investments in infrastructure. He also heard from young people had to choose between advancing their career and starting a family because Connecticut doesn't have Paid Family Leave. He also heard from students who were worried about school shootings.
Boucher says there was a lot accomplished last session, specifically the bipartisan budget. Boucher says it made structural changes to help address the budget deficit. It also included a constitutional spending cap and a bonding cap. It took out taxes on cell phones, tires and second homes, while returning money to local schools. Boucher praised maintaining the Medicare Savings Program for 130,000 seniors. She also touted her bill requiring high schools teach about the Holocaust and other genocides. Boucher introduced the bill in response to swastika graffiti and other anti-Semitic incidents in the district.
Boucher says the conversation was changed in the Senate because of the 18-18 tie, something that hasn't happened in 100 years. She says this was critical when it comes to the education cost sharing formula. Reforms were put in place last session and she wants to continue to improve the system, if reelected. Boucher says a good educational system attracts businesses and produces an excellent workforce, allowing people to climb the economic ladder.
Education funding reforms are also a priority for Haskell. His parents are divorced and he was able to go to school in Westport, which had various technology and extra-curricular activities. But he says it could have been different if he lived with his father in Bridgeport, where students walk through metal detectors every day. He called it a moral failing of the state that students receive less funding just 15 minutes from their peers. Haskell says there's so much wasted potential and an economic catastrophe by not investing in the next generation. He wants a funding formula that's transparent and predictable. Haskell says schools don't count on a lot of state aid, but they do count on Connecticut delivering what it promises.
Boucher also wants to continue to reform tax policy. Haskell says the next generation of taxpayers is being burdened by yesterday's mistakes, with $36 billion in unfunded pension obligations. Promises made in the 90s and money wasn't put into the pension fund, holding the state back today. He says irresponsible behavior needs to be balanced through creative revenue options.
Transportation is a top priority for Boucher. She called for more improvements along Metro North rail lines. When it comes to tolls, she fought against proposals in the last two years. Boucher says tolls are commonly used, but it's a bad thing for Connecticut because of the high gas tax. Until that is reduced or eliminated, she doesn't want to entertain the idea. Boucher says Connecticut has many more taxes than other states, and the income tax has a high bracket. She says states that have an income tax and tolls allow residents to deduct for various things like medical care. She says Connecticut's effective rate is higher. She is also skeptical of a transportation funding lockbox. Boucher says the language is not perfect, but a move in the right direction.
Haskell says making sure bridges are safe, rebuilding roads and improving service on rail lines is crucial for Connecticut's economic vitality. Transportation is the number one thing he heard from residents in the district. He supports a transportation funding lockbox. Every dollar taxed for transportation should go toward transportation improvements, according to Haskell. He says it doesn't seem like a controversial idea, but politics is getting in the way of common sense and decried money being taken out of the fund for other purposes. Haskell believes more revenue is needed, however because the improvements that have to be made are so great. He would support toll implementation, if it's done in a way that won't overburden Connecticut commuters. Right now, he notes that state residents are footing the entire bill for improvements.
Boucher wants to use bonding capacity to pay for infrastructure improvements. She says bonding should be for priorities, not as a slush fund for special interest projects like tennis tournaments and parking garages. Boucher called for rail modernization, bridge replacements and school construction projects.
Boucher opposes gambling and illicit drugs as a way to raise revenue. She would rather renegotiate state labor contracts to make them more in line with municipal employee contracts. Boucher says balancing the budget through vices, is not something Connecticut should get into, opposing legalization of recreational marijuana and regulation of sports betting. She would prefer to solve the state's fiscal woes through better state agency management and streamlining services.
Haskell supports medicinal marijuana and doesn't think it's the job of legislators to stand in between doctors and their patients when deciding on cancer treatments or ways to ease PTSD. As for recreational marijuana, Haskell says Connecticut can't afford to leave money on the table. He would tax it at the same level as cigarettes and require a minimum age of 21 into any regulation that gets proposed. Regulating sports betting is a more complex matter for Haskell. He says the compact with the tribes makes it more difficult, but would like to find a way to bring in revenue from something that people are already doing.
Haskell's mother went back to work two weeks after he was born and doesn't think that's right. He called for Paid Family and Medical Leave act financed by employee contributions, so that it doesn't unduly impact businesses.