Danbury Republican state Representative Michael Ferguson is seeking a second term in office. Democrat Ken Gucker is challenging the freshman lawmaker. Gucker is a small business owner who has a water restoration company. He has been a community activist on social issues, land use issues and historic issues.
Ferguson touted the bipartisan budget, which didn’t include major taxes or implementation of tolling. Ferguson wants to see more measures approved on a bipartisan basis. He was involved in a number of bills in the last two years, including one reforming Connecticut high school graduation credits. The requirement was extended to 25 several years ago, but implementation was never put in place. His bill brought more flexibility to schools like Danbury High School, which offers unique courses not offered elsewhere. Those courses can soon count toward the 25-credit requirement. It starts with next year’s freshman class.
Ferguson also touted changes to the education cost sharing formula, but says more work is needed. The formula now takes into account enrollment growth, ESL population, special ed, poverty levels and free-and-reduced price lunch. He says school districts that have these challenges like Danbury, are being covered by these changes.
When it comes to education funding, Gucker notes that Danbury is at the bottom with per pupil spending. He was critical of $50,000 in local spending for a lobbyist to try to get more education funding. He says it’s the job of legislators to bring money back to the district. He says elected officials are meant to do the services that this taxpayer funded lobbyist is trying to do.
On tolling, Gucker is not in favor. If electronic tolling is for some reason implemented, he would want to see a W2 or some other form sent to Connecticut residents. At the end of the year, it would include the amount paid in tolls and residents can deduct that money.
He opposes toll implementation in Connecticut. Ferguson calls them another tax on an already overtaxed population. He notes that congestion price tolling would have to be implemented because of certain federal regulations. As for the transportation funding lockbox, Ferguson says the current proposal has a hole in the bottom of the box.
Ferguson is open to having conversations about legalizing recreational marijuana. He supports medicinal marijuana, but has concerns with expanding regulations to recreational pot. Ferguson says those concerns stem from the opioid health crisis in the state. On sports betting, Ferguson wants to have more discussion on what regulations would look like. He thinks the big picture of gaming and gambling needs to be looked at, saying the state lacks a vision on where it’s going. Ferguson would prefer to have a comprehensive plan.
Gucker is opposed to sports betting. He fought a proposal in Danbury to have an OTB parlor added to downtown. The company was purchased by another entity and all proposals were put on hold. Gucker is not opposed to legalizing recreational marijuana, but wants to see more information and studies on it. He noted though that if it is legalized, maybe that would help with incarceration issues which would bring down prison population and the number of people going through the legal system.
In order to reduce wait times at the DMV, Ferguson says he would be open to another public-private partnership with AAA or another entity. He would be open to privatizing the DMV, but leans toward a partnership.
Gucker says there needs to be more support staff. He says that’s a prime example of where the state is making poor decisions on spending cuts. While having fewer state employees can be good, this is not where to make layoffs. He says there’s now one person doing the job of five. Gucker added that it's a shame that AAA isn't doing the licensing anymore because that really helped with some of the burden. Gucker says the state needs to be smarter about where to reduce waste and spending, but at the same time not cutting services that people need on a daily basis.
In order to better protect water quality of Candlewood Lake, Gucker wants more accountability from the owner of the lake, First Light Power. He says the accountability is crucial for the winter drawdowns, which are done in part to kill off invasive milfoil. Gucker opposed the use of Diquat, calling it nothing more than a contact herbicide that won’t kill the plant. He was concerned that the dead material would fall to the ground as fertilizer for the milfoil.
Ferguson thinks it makes sense and would support efforts to have local governments to monitor inspections of day cares, restaurants and the like. Ferguson would still like to see those agencies report to the state, which should retain some oversight. He says there is some duplication of services, which is a waste of resources. Ferguson says any time the state can work with local governments on mandate relief should be looked into.