Candidate profiles for 125th District: Tom O'Dea
"I'm running because of the fiscal abyss we are in," said Tom O'Dea, who is also a member of the New Canaan Town Council. If elected, his plan is to focus on cutting taxes and state spending, encouraging job growth and giving seniors an incentive to stay in Connecticut.
"There are some people who believe a tax freeze is OK and that tax cuts are not necessary. I want to make Connecticut a better place for my children than when I came to the state — particularly for Wilton and New Canaan."
Taxes, spending and jobs
Mr. O'Dea's main priorities as a state representative would be to lower the corporate tax rate and cut 10% in all state spending. The goal, he said, is to make it more appealing to retire and grow a business in Connecticut. He suggests doing so by cutting department budgets by 10% and having department and commission heads determine how they will manage their departments.
In addition, lowering the corporate tax rate, he said, will make it easier to start more small businesses and encourage growth and entrepreneurship.
Mr. O'Dea mentioned Gov. Malloy's First Five initiative, an incentive program to attract new business to the state and convince existing businesses to expand. He said he is not opposed to the concept of the plan, but that he would want to "turn it on its head and make it better for all business in the state, not just the first five."
"There has never been more of a time for fiscal austerity than there is now," Mr. O'Dea said. "If New Jersey can cut spending, then certainly Connecticut can. We don't have a choice. If we keep borrowing, we're just going to implode on ourselves. We need to immediately cut spending and cut taxes to grow our economy and make more money to create jobs."
Mr. O'Dea said if elected he will dedicate time to making Connecticut a better place for seniors, mentioning the state was ranked the worst place to retire.
"Seniors spend their money locally more than anybody else," he said. "We want seniors retiring and staying in New Canaan and Wilton. They're done raising kids, so they're not a burden on the school systems. They're the perfect residents to have in a community."
Mr. O'Dea mentioned his experience as a board member for Staying Put in New Canaan, a nonprofit corporation geared toward keeping adults in their homes as they grow older. He said he helped members set up their nonprofit status when they started.
Mr. O'Dea is not an advocate for free public transportation, but he does believe it needs to be more accessible and appealing to the public. He said he believes the investment put into the Metro-North cars was the right one since the old cars in New Canaan and Wilton were a "disaster" beforehand.
"The new cars are phenomenal," Mr. O'Dea said. "I think if you made commuting a better experience for people, more people would do it. If gas keeps going up, more people will be looking to public transportation."
Bicycle racks, he said, would also be a helpful addition to trains.
Mr. O'Dea also said he would look into having trucks come through I-95 during off-hours to help alleviate some of the congestion.
"We can't really afford to throw more money at it," Mr. O'Dea said of transportation in Fairfield County. "We can make it more available and make it easier, but we can't build another tier of traffic along 95. We just don't have the money for it."
Mr. O'Dea, a New Canaan resident who used to live in Wilton, is a partner at Halloran & Sage LLP in Hartford and has been on New Canaan's Town Council since 2005. He chaired the New Canaan Republican Town Committee from 2001 to 2004, was on the State Judicial Selection Commission from 2004 to 2007, was on the state's Police Officers Standards and Training Council from 1995 to 2004, and was a state victim compensation commissioner from 1997 to 2004.
He is a father of three and a husband who, besides having a full-time job, coaches New Canaan youth football, baseball and basketball. He still plans on working full-time, but will withdraw from serving on the Town Council and from coaching his kids in sports.
One of Mr. O'Dea's opponents has criticized Mr. O'Dea's decision to work full-time and serve as a part-time legislator. To that, Mr. O'Dea said, "The Connecticut Constitution is drafted so we would have a part-time legislature for a reason. I believe my real-world experience as an employer and one who has to put bread on the table for my family will be better suited as a part-time legislator as our founders had envisioned than someone who has no experience in elected office, but will devote all his time in Hartford."
Mr. O'Dea's experience in elected office began when he became a Town Council member in 2005. He ran against a charter revision proposal that would have allowed the council to add to the town budget. By charter, the council may only approve, reduce or send the budget back.
"My belief was then and still is that if we had been allowed to add to the budget, we, as a group, would have added to it, and we would have had larger tax increases than we did," Mr. O'Dea said. "We would have seen a decrease in services, and our schools would have suffered."
"I do believe that if I hadn't run against that revision to the charter, it may have passed," he continued. "I saw that as a disaster and I'm proud that I ran against that."
Also during his tenure on the council, Mr. O'Dea was one of six members in July to vote in favor of changing the vesting period in the town's pension plan, which mainly benefited former First Selectman Jeb Walker and sparked a controversy.
Mr. O'Dea, who thought the July agenda would be non-controversial as it typically is in the summer, said at first he knew nothing about the pension changes in the vote until he was contacted about the changes and then looked into it.
He, like the rest of those who voted in favor of the vesting changes, said he listened to the pension lawyer, pension administrator, human resources director, Board of Selectmen, and Board of Finance, all of whom recommended the change and said at the time it had to be done by Sept. 13 (Town Council doesn't meet in August).
"I always ask what the previous board's decision was; if there was a disagreement, it makes me probe deeper into the issue," Mr. O'Dea said regarding unanimous approval of the change from the Board of Finance. "I voted the way I did. I'm not ashamed of it. If I could change it, I would have postponed my vote or have voted against it."
Mr. O'Dea is taking private donations, not through the state's program, to finance his campaign. According to his website, ODeaForStateRep.org, contributions are $250 maximum per person and $500 per couple.