Candidates' snapshot: Weighing in on the state's future

Wilton voters who live in the 125th state House District will have two candidates to choose from on Tuesday: incumbent Republican Tom O’Dea Jr. and Green Party candidate David Bedell. Mr. Bedell challenged Mr. O’Dea two years ago for the seat vacated by the retiring John Hetherington.

We asked the candidates why they’re running; what’s the biggest issue facing the state; how to get Connecticut’s economy going; how to fix the tangled transportation systems in the county; and what other issues they might like to mention. Here are their responses.

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Tom O’Dea Jr. (Republican)

I was honored and humbled to represent the 125th District for the last two years. It was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life and I would truly appreciate the opportunity to serve New Canaan and Wilton — two of the finest communities in Connecticut — and continue in my efforts to make them even better.

Increasing the number of private-sector jobs is the No. 1 issue facing Connecticut today, and education and tax policy are the ways we need to address it.

We have to improve the business climate to create jobs. I moved to Connecticut in 1990 when there was no income tax; the state was the envy of New England and beyond. The economy was booming.

There were more jobs in 1990 than there are now. We have dramatically grown the size of state government. In an effort to pay for that increased spending, we’ve raised taxes to the point where everyone agrees we’re overtaxed, even the governor’s own secretary of OPM, Ben Barnes. So how do we close the deficit and lower taxes?

We have to cut state spending. I called for a 10% across-the-board cut in spending in 2013. I was one of only a handful of state representatives who voted against the latest billion-dollar bonding package. We already have the highest debt and one of the most underfunded state pension systems in the country.

I now believe we need a 20% cut in state spending. That would allow us to cut individual and corporate tax rates and encourage companies to move into the state and reverse the trend of job outflow.

We also need to make Connecticut more friendly for retirees. I proposed a bill to eliminate state tax on pensions and Social Security, like many other states. While it may decrease tax revenue in the short term, I believe it will encourage retirees to stay in Connecticut and spend money here rather than move their assets to Florida and will result in an increase in tax revenue over the long run. That would increase property values and keep one of our most valued assets, our seniors, in Connecticut.

I believe if we lower the gas tax — yes, lower it — by approximately a quarter, we’ll have the lowest gas prices in New England. I proposed a bill last session to do this for the month of August but it never got out of committee. If we do that, I’m certain we’ll see an increase in revenue while at the same time lowering taxes on our residents. More people from out of state will buy gas when traveling through Connecticut, which will contribute to our tax base.

We also need to make sure gas tax revenues go toward fixing our infrastructure, and we did that this past legislative session. We also need to think outside the box, like decreasing the cost of public transportation during rush hour, not increasing it, and working with companies to encourage flexible hours. We need to make Metro-North more commuter friendly by reinstating the “bar car.” Those who don’t like it can go to another train car.

I oppose tolls, but if they are coming, we need to mandate a reduction in the gas tax as I’ve suggested, have tolls higher during rush hour and utilize a percentage of the toll for each vehicle to make public transportation free during rush hour. That will reduce congestion.

Our best legislative ideas come from constituents. Last term, Mike Holland and Ingrid Gillespie of the Connecticut Prevention Network told me about a drug called Narcan or naloxone, which is saving lives of people who overdose on heroin. It was through their efforts that we were able to get a bill passed extending immunity to first responders who utilize the drug.

If you have an idea for a bill to make Connecticut a better place and save money, I’d love to give you the credit and try to get it passed.

David Bedell (Green Party)

I am offering some new ideas that can lead our state in a better direction. Too many of our elected officials are re-elected year after year without opposition, and I believe voters, like consumers, prefer to have choices.

The No. 1 issue to address in the state is our energy infrastructure, the basis of any thriving economy. Green jobs and green loan programs will put people to work insulating old buildings, retrofitting homes and schools with solar panels, and developing new industries for fuel cells, photovoltaics, wind turbines, biofuels, LED lighting, better batteries, and other clean energy technologies.

We need to transition away from nuclear power and fossil fuels, including methane gas imported from out-of-state hyrdofracking operations. The future lies in safe, renewable energy, and Connecticut needs to be at the forefront — especially because all of the old, dirty fuels have to be imported at added cost.

A major step the legislature can take to spur economic growth is to establish a state public bank. Such a bank, modeled on the Bank of North Dakota, could provide affordable credit to new businesses and support economic sustainability while protecting our pensions and providing a better return on state investments. Public assets deposited to a state bank would circulate within Connecticut and be open to public scrutiny, instead of being invested in large out-of-state banks, which offer a low rate of return.

Transportation congestion must be addressed by a comprehensive plan for intermodal transport and mixed-mode commuting. We can look to successful models that have been used for decades in densely populated parts of Europe as well as often-cited examples in North American metropolitan areas such as Portland, Ore., or Boulder, Colo.

Older East Coast cities like New York and New Haven have made great progress recently in designating bicycle paths and implementing “smart streets” policies of signage, education and traffic flow. We need increased train and bus service, but we also need to make use of modern technology to communicate with passengers, so at every bus stop and train platform digital signage will inform commuters about their wait time and other options.

We need bike racks in commercial districts, at transportation hubs, and on trains. We need shuttle buses and taxi-vans following flexible routes so we don’t need to pave over valuable downtown real estate and turn it into parking spaces. We need roundabouts and coordinated signals to improve automobile flow.

Where possible, freight traffic should be diverted off tractor-trailers on I-95 and put on freight rail and barges. Some of our abandoned rail lines will need to be reopened, and light rail and trolley lines deserve serious study.

Another issue that should be of concern to all of us is education. In implementing educational standards, these must take into account local conditions and recognize students as individuals, not statistics. We need to equalize education funding so all students have access to quality education, and towns do not have to rely on already burdensome and volatile property taxes.