There is an open state House seat in the 138th District, which includes parts of Danbury, New Fairfield and Ridgefield. The position is being vacated by Republican Jan Giegler, who is now the Danbury Town Clerk. The two men competing for the job are a community college professor and a City firefighter.
Republican Michael Ferguson is a Danbury High school graduate who earned his Bachelor and Master degrees from Western Connecticut state University. He's spent the last three years serving on the Danbury Board of Education. Ferguson is an adjunct professor at Naugatuck Valley Community College and works at the Information Desk at Danbury Hospital. He says he will bring all of these experiences to Hartford if elected.
A Danbury firefighter and Marine Corps veteran, Democrat Jeff Tomchik also serves as president of the Danbury Professional Fire Fighters, Local 801. He's been a City employee for about 20 years. Tomchik says being in the Marines is one of the greatest accomplishments of his life. He entered into an officer development program allowing a transition to Reserve duty while attending Norwich University, the military college of Vermont. While enlisted, he participated in support services for Haiti, and other training and humanitarian deployments.
For the last four years Tomchik has worked in Hartford advocating for public safety bills. He says that experience of lobbying and drafting bills has led to passage of legislation. One example is a bill to provide wage replacement coverage to firefighters if they develop cancer in the line of duty. He says work started last year, but there was a perceived financial burden placed on municipalities. The task force came up with a solution that alleviate the burden, by creating a new fund using money from an existing communications tax on people's phone bills. More than 30 other states have similar laws. He says it's in his nature to roll up his sleeves and do that hard work that's needed to better the community. He thinks the community needs critical services restored.
Education reforms will take up a lot of the General Assembly's time. A judge called for a complete overhaul of policies across the board. Ferguson says there's a big flaw with how Connecticut funds education. He says Danbury is underfunded in the Education Cost Sharing formula by 51-percent. No matter the outcome of the state Supreme Court ruling, Ferguson hopes the legislature sits down to reevaluate how education funding is distributed. He wants the legislature to also address higher education in Connecticut.
Tomchik says the way funding is applied across the state under the Education Cost Sharing Formula needs to be changed. He says it needs to be evaluated each year. If funding is cut and then schools degrade, that needs to change. He says an open discussion is needed about investing as much as possible in as many schools as possible to improve the outcomes for as many children as possible. Tomchik says education is a major driver of the economy. He says students need to be prepared for the workforce, whether it's out of vo-tech schools or colleges.
Ferguson says transportation is a big issue for the 138th district. He is opposed to border tolls because that would put a strain on local roads and local resident's wallets. He says that would also impact federal transportation funding. He says the Transportation Fund should not be tapped for other uses. He says the people of Connecticut expect that the money they send to Hartford will go where it's designated.
When it comes to ways to pay for transportation infrastructure improvements, Tomchik says more of a burden cannot be placed on residents. He says tolls would cause more damage to local roads and provide more cost to municipalities than it would ever be gained across the state. With one of the highest gas taxes in the country, he says that money needs to be used for its intended purpose. He says a crumbling infrastructure needs to be repaired with the funds already dedicated for repairs. Tomchik says he wants to go to Hartford to remind state leaders that the Connecticut border doesn't stop at Waterbury, that it goes all the way to New York.
Ferguson says mental health service funding is an area that's been cut recently, and that's the opposite of what's needed. He says communities are also facing an opioid addiction epidemic that needs to be address. Ferguson says more communication of current services can help tremendously.
Tomchik says opioid overdose epidemic facing the state is a big problem, and something he's encountered as a firefighter. He says providing first responders with Narcan is a good first step to combat the issue. But he says getting patients further support is the next step. He wants to come up with a plan that will address the social outcomes to help people be productive members of society.
Ferguson called the fundamental issue of the election, getting the economy in order. He says a series of policies implemented in the last few years have done nothing to encourage entrepreneurship. He wants to freeze some taxes and see others rolled back. He says that will encourage more people to stay in Connecticut and encourage employers to expand. Ferguson wants to reverse some policies that have made Connecticut to expensive for both young families and businesses.
Tomchik says the deficit is a complex issue. He says residents pay enough taxes and the ability of workers to live here is getting harder and harder. He wants to come up with out-of-the box ideas to improve the economy, rather than increase taxes. He says there needs to be an equal balance between lowering the deficit and raising revenue, but that can only be done through long term corrections. believes spending can be done in a more efficient way in order to maintain services. He says building high tech and biotech education will help draw employers and jobs. Tomchik says he has a unique background and brings a fresh perspective of every day life. He says there are qualified candidates and current legislators, but he says everyday workers need to be represented in Hartford. Tomchik says the state is at a critical juncture.