Boucher, Curry disagree on minimum wage, family leave

Differing over raising the minimum wage, paid family leave, gun control and economic issues, candidates for the 26th District seat in the state senate found agreement on other issues at a League of Women Voters debate. Both spoke of getting tougher on drug use to meet the opioid epidemic, and agreed transportation improvements are best financed from the existing gas tax rather than new tolls or taxes.

The candidates, incumbent Republican Toni Boucher of Wilton and Democratic challenger Carolanne Curry of Westport, debated in front of an audience of about 50 at the Ridgefield Library Sept. 28. The district includes Ridgefield, Redding, Wilton, Westport and parts of Weston, New Canaan and Bethel.

“Families, seniors, young people and businesses all tell me they’re struggling now,” said Senator Boucher. “...Life has become unaffordable for people taxed beyond their limits.”

She said the problems start with Democratic control of the House, Senate, and governor’s office.

“We’d do better with a politically balanced state senate,” Boucher said.

Curry didn’t challenge that. “I’ll be able to do everything Toni wants,” she said, “because I’ll be sitting in the Democratic caucus room.”

On the question of increasing the minimum wage, currently $9.60 an hour, the candidates differed.

“Fifteen dollars an hour. You’re a mother. You have a couple of kids. This is supposed to sustain you?” said Curry.

“I’d be looking to phase in a higher amount.”

Boucher feared raising the minimum wage would scare away employers the state needs.

“In all my years in the house or senate I never voted in favor of one minimum wage increase,” Boucher said. “...We have the slowest growth in New England.”

There were similar differences on “paid family leave” to workers.

Boucher worried it would make the state less attractive to employers.

“Right now there’s competition between states,” she said.

Paid family leave drives up companies’ expenses.

“We can’t afford some of these ‘very good to do’ proposals right now,” Boucher said. “Those are things I’d love to support, but there’s a reality of the marketplace.”

Curry supported family leave.

“Our lives are as important, how they are conducted, as the profit a company can make,” she said.

In the wake of GE’s announced move to Massachusetts, candidates were asked what they’d do to keep companies in the state, and whether they supported the governor’s incentive agreement with Sikorsky to keep its jobs here.

“We need to create a more hospitable environment for all our businesses,” Boucher said.

The state “should not need to create these expensive” packages of incentives to keep companies. But she did vote for the Sikorsky deal.

“We all voted ‘yes’ but nobody’s taking a victory lap,” Boucher said.

Curry, too, supported the Sikorsky package. But she questioned the portrayal of GE’s departure as a failure of state policy — it had more to do with internal company changes, she said.

“GE went from a product-driven company to a paper finance company,” Curry said. “The jobs that were lost were because they didn’t need those people any more.”

Gun safety

A “gun safety” question was framed around a domestic violence bill that would require anyone served with “an ex parte restraining order” to surrender their firearms within 24 hours.

Curry supported the bill. “I think the question answers itself,” she said.

Boucher said she was “coming from the position of a strong second amendment supporter .... with an A rating from the NRA…” who had nonetheless gotten criticism from “within our party” for some votes in favor of gun safety legislation.

“This bill had merit, and so I did vote for it,” she said.

What about the crisis of opioid drug abuse?

“My focus would be on the suppliers,” Curry said.

“I’d see those laws are tightened up — enforced,” Curry said.

Boucher said she’s long fought that battle. “For 15 years I’ve done nothing but fight proposals — so many pieces of legislation — to relax drug laws,” Boucher said.

“It hit home this year: an extended family member, a young woman in her 30s, died of an overdose.”

Boucher said the state should remain vigilant. “De-criminalization is an issue. So is over prescription,” she said. “...It’s been shown: reducing the criminal aspect has increased usage.”


What about transportation and financing improvements?

The revenue from state gas taxes are supposed to be dedicated to transportation projects, Boucher said, but “the majority party” had made a habit of tapping the fund to balance budgets that would otherwise be in the red.

“Put a lock box on the transportation fund,” Boucher said.

She’s fought for money to widen Route 7 — and improve rail service, but Boucher decried proposals floated in Hartford to generate new revenue for transportation projects.

“We don’t need more tolls. We don’t need the ‘mileage driven’ tax,” she said.

Curry agreed. “The gas tax totally has been abused,” she said.

If sent to Hartford, Curry said she’d fight to have all gas tax revenue put back into transportation.

“I’d say that that should be re-directed,” she said. “No new money, simply re-directed.”