The 24th state Senate District includes Danbury, Bethel, New Fairfield and Sherman. Republican incumbent Mike McLachlan is seeking a 5th term in office. He is being challenged by small business owner Democrat Ken Gucker.
A Deputy Minority Leader, McLachlan is ranking member on the General Assembly’s Government Administration and Elections Committee. McLachlan says there are more challenges ahead. He says there seems to be much more cooperation now to come up with ideas to address runaway spending.
Gucker is a small business owner who was a volunteer fireman in New Fairfield who now lives in Danbury. He's been an advocate locally on land use, environmental and historical issues. He cited the saving of the McLean house, stopping a zone change in the Long Ridge neighborhood and the Cotswold property.
When it comes to education reforms, McLachlan says two major education judicial decisions have been handed down in the last 40 years and they have been largely ignored by the legislature. Now that there is a third court ruling, which is headed to the state Supreme Court, McLachlan says he fears the General Assembly won't take it seriously. McLachlan says Danbury is dramatically underfunded compared to similar municipalities. He notes that special education is woefully underfunded.
Gucker called the education court ruling a mixed bag. He says the Education Cost Sharing formula does need to be addressed. But he disagreed with the Judge's ruling on special education reforms. As someone who has dyslexia, he says a different method of learning may be needed. He credited good teachers and an involved mother for not being passed over. He says children with special needs need to have all available resources.
Gucker says it sounded an alarm bell for him when Danbury officials approved spending $50,000 to hire a lobbyist to send to Hartford. He says the legislative delegation should be lobbying on behalf of Danbury. He says that money would have been much better spent in the schools.
The state has a Transportation Fund now, which is supposed to be a lockbox. But McLachlan says Governor Malloy's administration has taken, on average, $75 million a year from that fund to pay for other items. He says government needs to be responsible with transportation priorities and buckle down. He called the constitutional lockbox proposed recently a gimmick.
Gucker wants to see improvements to rail infrastructure. He says there's more of a need for rail than there has ever been. He says it's sad that more Danbury area residents travel to Brewster to use Metro North than take the Danbury branch. He would prefer a better option so people don't have to travel as far in their cars just to get on a train. While improvements are being made to the exit 5 and 6 area, he would like to see more being done. Gucker opposes a mileage tax and bringing back tolls. There's other infrastructure that he would like to see improved, including WiFi to attract businesses.
McLachlan wants the legislature to focus, like a laser beam, on the Interstate 84 corridor. He says the amount of traffic is dramatic, and the lack of resources is equally as dramatic. McLachlan says the state has spent tons of money on projects that he believes is misguided. He cited the $675 million busway between New Britain and Hartford. He would have preferred that money spent on adding a third lane all the way from Danbury to Waterbury and for the planning stages to redesign the MixMaster in Waterbury.
New Fairfield officials have been fighting for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to ban walk ins to state parks after they are closed to cars. McLachlan says there were meetings with DEEP Commissioner Robert Klee last year, and new regulations were promised for the 2016 summer season. But McLachlan says Klee dropped the ball. There are some simple fixes to take care of the problem and DEEP needs to not drop the ball again. He says he is disappointed in the agency's follow through.
Gucker says Candlewood Lake is special to him because he learned how to swim in that lake, and then became a water safety instructor and lifeguard. He would like to see greater enforcement of and communication with the lake's owner FirstLight Power Resources. He says last year's winter drawdown, done to kill off the invasive Eurasian water milfoil, wasn't done because of pump damage. He would have liked FirstLight to go ahead with the drawdown to also fix the pump.
McLachlan serves on the Judiciary Committee and the Finance Revenue & Bonding Committee. He says he is trying to keep a close watch on state borrowing and notes that Connecticut is exceeding the state's capacity to pay back the amount of money owed.
Gucker says the state can't cut its way to having balanced books; and that bringing in more revenue is the way. In order to do that, he wants to provide people with a living wage. He says low wage jobs means more people reliant on programs like HUSKY and food stamps. He says having a living wage will be less of a drain on Connecticut's resources. Gucker says top down economics doesn't work. He also encouraged people to shop local as a way to help the economy.
Gucker says small businesses aren't getting enough help. He related the story of a friend who purchased a dilapidated business in order to help improve the quality of life in a neighborhood, but he can't get assistance. He called for tax deferrals and assistance getting through the bureaucratic red tape.
The state does encourage some areas for development and some for open space. McLachlan says the state requires each town to have a Master Plan of Development. McLachlan says the Stony Hill corridor has been a high priority for commercial development, but the challenge has been nearby residential neighborhoods.
Gucker encouraged people to vote down the entire ballot, because the state races are the candidates who can affect Connecticut resident's lives the most. As he's been out campaigning Gucker says he's been hearing that people feel like they haven't been heard in Hartford.