Boucher and Sharlach discuss goals and guns, roads, schools

The race for the 26th District seat in the Connecticut State Senate has Republican Toni Boucher, a three-term incumbent, challenged by Democrat Philip Sharlach, an accountant and management consultant.

Both candidates live in Wilton. The district includes Ridgefield, Redding, Wilton, Westport and parts of Weston, New Canaan and Bethel.

For more election news, click on Election 2014.

Here are issue questions and the candidates answers, within word limits.

What do you see as the three most important things you could do in Hartford, and how would you work to bring them about? (200 words).

Boucher: Economy: CT has become unaffordable. Onerous anti-business bills, high taxes and bloated budgets have people and jobs fleeing to other states. High costs must be cut. Fringe benefits are 82% of state wages and employees contribute less than any other state. Pensions are funded less than 50% and near insolvency. Pension and healthcare plans should mirror the private sector. Borrowing should be restricted and not used for operating budgets. Duplications, waste and fraud can be reduced through an Office of Inspector General. Technology can deliver timelier, efficient services. Nonprofits should be used to deliver needed services for half the cost.

Education: Focus on early literacy, reading by the third grade, reform funding formula and reduce costly mandates. Leave performing schools alone and fix those failing. Require rigorous standards but, Common Core and new tests should be phased in over time and teachers trained and prepared properly. Reduce college tuition and fee hikes.

Transportation: The state needs to modernize its transportation systems and repair roads, rails, bridges, tunnels and ports before building anything new. It needs to provide greater oversight of Metro-North and go out for bid in 2015. Transportation fees should not be diverted.

Responsible balanced opened leadership can make this possible.

Sharlach: 1. Diffuse the political hostility, and encourage pro-active inclusion of the minority Republican Party in the General Assembly. This is done by listening and appreciating their views and understanding that there is always another way to affect change. I believe government should be inclusive. This is based upon by 35+ years of management consulting at the national level.

2. Connecticut Jobs First: Pass legislation requiring that for all state contracts, both competitive and non-competitive bid; and excluding those funded by the Federal Government, be awarded to Connecticut businesses and Connecticut residents first, and based upon availability.

In effect we would be paying ourselves and circulating these dollars within Connecticut. There is a multiplier to this that could produce almost three dollars for every dollar recirculated by our residents in state.

3. Legislatively create the Office of Coordinated Mental Health and Senior Services. At least four separate agencies oversee the delivery of mental health services, while not addressing the exponentially expanding needs of aging seniors.

From duplicate spending on administrative functions to providing overlapping services, their clients are still being underserved. We have a ticking time bomb as baby bombers age. This phenomenon needs to be addressed immediately.

2. Southwestern Connecticut is choking on its transportation problems. What would you do as a legislator to improve the situation? (75 words)

Boucher:  Repair and upgrade rail and branch line tracks, equipment and parking. Widen entrances and exits on 95 and 84, widen 84 to three lanes near Waterbury. To relieve truck traffic, we need to develop deep-water ports and put more freight on barges and rails. Last session I helped to create a port authority for New London, Bridgeport and New Haven. Invest in transit-oriented development projects so people can live closer to their work places.

Sharlach: The General Assembly can substantially resolve these problems.

1. Create public/private partnership, New York/Connecticut Transportation Authority to fund infrastructure requirements.

2. Upgrade rail tracks to increase handling of containerized freight. Get trucks off the roads.

3. Start to receive and ship freight through the Connecticut Port Authority in Bridgeport, New Haven and New London; off-load and distribute these goods by rail.

4. Expand and substantially increase commuter train service on the Danbury Branch line.

3. Where do you stand on gun control, and are there any aspects of Connecticut’s gun laws you’d work to make either stronger or less restrictive? (100 words)

Boucher: My job is to listen and represent the constituents of the district. After the Newtown shooting, I received more feedback on this bill than at any time. Seventy percent supported the gun bill. Others felt that it took too many controversial steps. The bill would not get the support needed to be repealed. However, it could be made better by bringing both sides together. Many responsible gun owners were not properly notified of new registration requirements. Some good aspects of the bill included closing universal background check loopholes and prohibiting gun possession for those treated at an inpatient psychiatric facility.

Sharlach: I am in favor of our restrictive gun control laws. These same laws and penalties should also apply to any sales venue; outstate of weapons brought into Connecticut and size of magazines sold in state or brought into the state.

Restrictions based upon the mental health of an individual should be further researched. I do not believe we are there yet. Individual mental health abnormalities, when observed by a health care professional should be noted in a registry, while not exclusionary but to be on notice. Professionals who should have been aware of a potential situation should also be accountable.

4. How could Connecticut’s approach to financing K-12 education be improved?

Boucher: The state should reform ECS to increase funding for school transportation and special education. The formula is weighted to property values instead of income and disadvantages towns closest to New York. Mandate relief is needed regarding prevailing wage that increases building costs and the Minimum Budget Requirement which requires schools to spend the same every year even when enrollment declines. Towns need relief from the common calendar, common core smarter balance testing and teacher evaluations.

Sharlach: Depending upon the locality whatever formula is used will be incorrect. Instead we focus on the quality of facilities and teacher compensation. Text books and supplies are a local issue.

1. All communities should have comparable Class A facilities (funded locally, based upon circumstances, supplemented by state bonding)

2. Statewide standardized teachers’ pay scale, including benefits, adjusted by regional demographics. This is similar to the funding of state housing assistance programs.