26th Senate District: Candidates divided on state finances, schools, police
WILTON — The state’s financial situation, school regionalization and the recently passed police accountability law provided the most sparks in a candidates forum that saw state Sen. Will Haskell and challenger Kim Healy cover more than a dozen topics over the course of an hour this week.
Healy, a Republican who is also endorsed by the Connecticut Independent Party, is challenging Haskell, a Democrat in his first term, for the state Senate 26th District seat.
Marianne Pollak, of the Stamford League of Women Voters, moderated the forum that was held Tuesday at Wilton Library’s Brubeck Room and was streamed online for the public.
While both agreed spending cuts are needed to rein in the state’s fiscal difficulties, the candidates differed on their approach. Haskell said an effective way to ensure “every taxpayer dollar is spent efficiently” was to enlist the help of state employees. He worked on a bill that offered a monetary incentive to employees who shine a light on wasteful spending. If changes are implemented, the employee would receive 10 percent of any possible savings. That bill was passed and signed into law, he said.
Healy pointed to billions of dollars in deficits over the next three years as well as unfunded pension liabilities. “We’re in crisis here,” she said. She suggested moving “bloated” government programs to public-private partnerships or shifting some responsibilities to nonprofits. She suggested working with auditors to find efficiencies and to not replace retiring state employees.
“We all agree on the problems, but we need specifics,” Haskell said. “Which departments are we transitioning?” Which nonprofits would be asked to do more?
“We’ve got the strongest rainy day fund in the country,” he said. “That’s what’s keeping the lights on in Connecticut.”
While both candidates oppose regionalizing schools, a hot-button topic that erupted last year, there still were some differences.
“I opposed school regionalization on the day it was proposed,” said Haskell, a Westport resident who graduated from Staples High School. “I stood against not only my own party, but my party leaders.”
“This is a bad idea, regardless of where it came from,” he said.
He went on to say that instead of thinking of K-12 education, he prefers to think of K-14 education, since “most jobs will require education beyond a high school diploma. I support investing in schools now more than ever.”
Healy pointed out the governor’s bill on regionalization passed the education committee last year. “People are worried that it will come around again,” she said. “You can stand up against your party, but your party can still pass it.”
The most blatant difference of opinion came with a question on funding police departments.
Healy, a Wilton resident whose father and brother are retired New York City police officers, seized on the police accountability law.
“They legislated hesitation,” she said. Officers could be killed if they hesitated or a civilian could be killed because police “are worried about getting sued.”
“We already have trouble hiring officers and I believe the bill will only make it harder to hire and keep officers,” she said.
By contrast, Haskell said the law mandates training for implicit bias, body cameras, and transparency over records so officers with disciplinary records cannot hop from one agency to another.
“Bad officers are giving policing a bad name,” he said. “Truly egregious behavior should be answered for.”
“If there are problems in the cities, why not deal with it at the city level?” Healy responded.
When asked what they would do to improve Connecticut’s environment, Healy said she wants initiatives that encourage companies to reduce commuting. She would also wants more attention paid to Long Island Sound.
As a member of the environment committee, Haskell said he supported a bill that encourages the sale of electric vehicles and a priority given to investment in trains and public transportation.
“It’s also why I fought so hard for the plastic bag ban,” he said, adding banning dangerous pesticides could be a next step. “Connecticut has to step up and be the first line of defense.”
When asked if Connecticut has gone too far with its firearms legislation, Haskell said it hasn’t been enough.
“I would go farther,” he said. “We demonstrated a bravery that doesn’t exist in Washington to stand up to the NRA,” he said, adding he supported Ethan’s Law, which regulates gun storage, and a ban on ghost guns.
“Let’s ban the bulk purchase of firearms,” he said. “You can buy one gun per person per month.”
Healy thought the ban on ghost guns “is a really good law,” and said she supported legislation established after the shooting at Sandy Hook.
Going forward, she said she wants illegal guns off the street\, but worried the new police accountability law would prevent that “because they can’t do search and seizure.”
Affordable housing is proving to be a divisive issue in the campaign, Haskell said. He believes “you can support local control and still build affordable housing … I refuse to accept the notion that a state takeover is needed.”
Healy agreed more affordable housing is needed. “I think there are affordable homes in our area, but we can do better. … The threat from Hartford has lit the fire under towns to address it.”
Keeping young people in Connecticut is a matter of student loans, housing and transportation, Haskell said. Healy believes the state needs to bring back companies so jobs are more available.
As for tolls, Healy said she is not in favor of them. “Our roads cost five times as much to repair as other states. We have to find out what’s costing that much,” she said.
Haskell said the state needs tolls as a way for trucks and drivers to pay their share of wear and tear on the roads. “Our infrastructure is crumbling everywhere you look,” he said.