The 26th state Senate district includes parts of Bethel, Redding, Ridgefield and Wilton. Two Wilton residents are vying for the post, a three term incumbent, and a businessman.
Republican incumbent Toni Boucher was critical of tax increases over the last several years saying the state budget has also used one-time revenues and borrowing for ongoing expenses. Boucher is calling for comprehensive tax reforms. She gave the example of Rhode Island state employees being asked to forego cost of living increases until the state could balance the pension account in order to save it. She notes that state employees contribute 2%, less than any other state. She said Connecticut should look into raising the retirement age for state workers.
Democrat Phil Sharlach has worked as a consultant and accountant in the private sector, including for Pricewaterhouse Coopers and Deloitte. He also helped facilitated the break up of AT&T into regulated and non-regulated companies. Sharlach says he has several priorities if elected. Among them is increasing Hartford's investment in Fairfield County, optimizing the state budget and bonding and providing support to seniors and veterans.
Sharlach says making sure all children have access to a good education is every parent's top priority. That's why he says fixing failing schools is so important, but not when the solution burdens students and teachers who are already doing well. He calls the implementation of the Common Core curriculum cumbersome and ill planned. Sharlach says teachers should be teaching to students, not to tests.
Boucher is a member of the Education Committee. She touted the addition of preschool slots in the state, consolidating services into the Office of Early Childhood, a concussion prevention bill dealing with school athletics and a sexual assault on college campus bill that protects students. She called the college bill a model for the rest of the country. The Education Committee also dealt with allergies in schools with passage of a bill about Epi pens. She says a bill was stopped to reduce the drug-free zones around schools.
Boucher says if elected to another term she would be interested in researching the possibility of a grade 9-14 school to give students the change to hone their interest and skills set. They would then graduate with an Associate’s Degree. She also wants to address the cost of higher education becoming less accessible to more middle-income students.
Boucher called Common Core a very controversial program. She says some school districts find it helpful, but for others it’s not up to the level they are already operating. She suggest that it be started gradually and not be a one-size fits all program. Boucher says top down management is not the way to improve education in the state.
Sharlach says his 36 years experience as a business executive could help could close a $1.37 billion deficit that the state is facing next fiscal year. He proposed a change to the conveyance tax, a set of two taxes homeowners face when they sell their property. One is paid to the state, and the other to the town.
Sharlach proposes a New York-Connecticut Transportation Authority, a non-governmental independent entity funded through open market financing and public funding. He says it could create a large freight rail system.
Boucher is also a member of the Transportation Committee. She and her colleagues called on federal agencies to intervene and provide technical and financial assistance, which she says worked. She says the new leadership at Metro North seems to be up to the task of addressing safety issues, mechanical issues, oversight and cultural issues. She says Connecticut has the opportunity to go out to bid on a train contract in 2015.
During a League of Women Voters debate, Sharlach said funding of mental health programs was too often short-changed, that most of the state's problems are economic.
Boucher says brownfield remediation work has done a great deal to clean up former brass and wire mill sites. Development of the Georgetown former Gilbert and Bennett site has stalled. She says the original developer didn’t start to build the housing, office space, train station and retail construction that was slated to go in there. Then the economy crashed. There’s a renewed effort to get development moving. She says the state has invested in making sure the roads through the property are up to code when the development starts.