The chairman of the Fairfield Board of Education is looking to unseat the incumbent Republican state Senator in the 28th District, which includes Newtown. State Senator Tony Hwang faces a challenge from Democrat Philip Dwyer, who served the community through the YMCA and three different elected offices.
Hwang says he wants to bring greater transparency, sustainability and predictability to the state budgeting process. He says the way tax revenue and resources are managed, and how spending is allocated impacts every facet of every community. He says the current budgetary process is broken because all parties involved aren't brought to the table. Hwang says cutting school budgets, impacting municipalities and those most at risk is flawed. He says the most vulnerable; the developmentally disabled, seniors and hospitals need to be protected. He says the state is in a crisis and lawmakers need to send a message that they are working together to create an environment where businesses and people can sustain themselves in Connecticut. He says government needs to be accountable to the people they represent.
Dwyer says community engagement is important to quality of life in the state. He wants to help the legislature have a better understanding of local school districts. Job development is also a focus for Dwyer. His top priorities are improvements in public schools, job growth, transportation and services for those most in need.
There is a court ruling making its way to the state Supreme Court about education funding fairness and other reforms to the education system in Connecticut. Dwyer says the judge made it seem like it's a question of rearranging allocations between rural, suburban and urban. But he says it goes much deeper than that, it's about closing the achievement gap in all districts. He says there are achievement gaps across the state. Dwyer says that's where the focus of the state should be when it comes to educating all children.
Hwang agrees with a state judge who ruled recently that Connecticut's education funding formula needs to be reformed. He says it's become a political doling out of favors without true application. Hwang says there's a lack of equity in the current system. But he was critical of the school construction funding part of the ruling should be allocated based upon the wealth of each community. He says schools are built for every future child who may use that school. Hwang also disagreed about special education funding reforms. He says every child deserves a quality education and should have an opportunity to live a fulfilled life. Hwang says America's greatness is predicated on the quality of educational foundations, and that shouldn't be allowed to lapse into mediocrity.
Dwyer says government works best when it takes care of those most in need. He called for better services to those who need mental health services and those who are not as financially well off as others. He says the state can't grow jobs without a strong transportation system.
Hwang says mental health is a critical component to everyone's well being. He says mental illness is no different than physical ailments, and efforts should be made to eliminate the stigma. He called for education, supportive services and counseling. He says the Be Kind Program and initiatives started by Sandy Hook parents in the wake of tremendous tragedy are making people's lives better.
Dwyer says Connecticut has a big budget problem. His career has been spent balancing budgets while preserving services for those most in need. He says there are tough decisions and prioritizations that have to be made.
Hwang says the state taxes far too much and spends too much. He believes the state has to balance needs against wants. Before tolls or a mileage tax can be taken seriously, Hwang says the Special Transportation Fund needs to be used solely for transportation infrastructure projects.
Having affordable health care costs is a concern. Dwyer says the Board of Education has found a way, working with employee groups, to make changes to health insurance plans that saves them money, saves the town money while preserving the basic services they want. He touted the state for passing Partnership 2.0 for making it possible for the Fairfield school district to $3.5 million on health insurance costs. Employees saved $800,000.
Hwang says some bills he's proud of working in a bipartisan manner include protecting the state's waterways. He says the Long Island Sound Plan maps out the topography and the shipping routes that can boost the state's commerce while protecting the waterway. He also touted legislation to give financial assistance to firefighters who suffer from certain diseases as a result of performing their jobs. He also praised the School Safety Zero Tolerance bill. He says there's been a rash of threats of violence against schools. He says the financial trauma to first responder resources and the emotional trauma to students, faculty and parents causes havoc and is not a laughing matter.
Dwyer says Connecticut's gun safety law isn't about gun control, it's about gun violence prevention. He says Connecticut is number 2 in terms of responsible actions taken. He says there are more steps that can be taken to change the gun culture in the country, and to put laws on the books that help communities be safer. He notes that a majority of those in the gun sale industry are responsible make sure people have background checks. He wants bad actors in the gun sales industry to be held accountable to higher standards.
Hwang called on his fellow lawmakers to be models of cooperation and compassion to make positive contributions to the state. In walking the district, he's learned that people don't begrudge paying their fair share of taxes. But he says they don't believe their tax dollars are being spent properly, efficiently and respectfully. He says government has a role in ensuring the most vulnerable are protected, that public safety is upheld and the infrastructure is safe. Hwang says government has a responsibility to stay out of people's lives and empower businesses, but not be the solution to growing jobs. He's also heard that the unrelenting burden of taxes and regulations are driving people from the state. He wants the state to reign in spending and treat each tax dollar coming in as any other household does.