Candidates for the state’s 8th District Senate and 17th District house seats answered questions about the environment, the deficit, transportation, medical marijuana, the size of government and more during a Canton League of Women Voters-sponsored forum Tuesday evening.
Sen. Kevin Witkos and state Rep. Tim LeGeyt, both Republicans, are seeking re-election. Witkos is facing a challenge from Democrat Dan Seger, a fellow Canton resident and businessman. David Peña, also a businessman and Avon Town Council member, is challenging Witkos.
For the forum, held at Canton High School, candidates answered questions submitted by the audience. Student volunteers helped collect index cards from the audience and bring them to the league, which had three people screen the questions to ensure that they were general enough to ask all candidates.
The league originally planned to separate the forums for each race but in the end had all four candidates on stage at the same time to answer each question. The issues are the same and the format allowed the evening to progress quicker so people could go home in time to watch the second presidential debate, league officials said.
Those who weren't able to attend will be able to watch a broadcast on Nutmeg TV (Comcast Channel 5) at 7 p.m. Oct. 26 and Oct. 30.
Job creation and the role of government
While the candidates had similar views on some questions, such as the area’s natural resources, others like one on job creation, showed clear differences.
Witkos was the only Republican senator to vote against the October 2011 jobs bill and he said it way too much for much too little.
“In a 8-hour debate, the state of Connecticut spent a billion dollars,” he said.
Witkos contended the jobs bill was also restrictive and would not help towns like Canton.
Seger, on the other hand, contended that the jobs bill is indeed providing the incentive for small companies and providing jobs, especially through small tax-free enterprise zones.
He said companies are hiring and said 700 jobs have come to Torrington.
“These types of job creation are beneficial,” Seger said. “They’re helping small businesses. We need to make Connecticut business friendly again.
Witkos countered that the state had a terrible record in job creation, with zero net growth in two decades.
“Government can not create business," he said. "It needs to get out of the way.”
LeGeyt’s take was a little different. He said the jobs bill included small-business programs that are making a difference.
It’s resulted in several hundred jobs, he said.
“It’s a small step but it’s a worthwhile step and it’s bearing fruit,” LeGeyt said.
He also said some positives are resulting with community colleges training for needed skills in IT and manufacturing.
Peña agreed the jobs bill has helped and said the state needs to make sure employers feel comfortable in hiring and people are encouraged to be creative.
He said in 20 years of helping people start businesses, he’s seen it time and time again.
“That’s what is important more than anything else,” Peña said. “I would invest in people.”
Witkos was also critical of the Jackson labs bill. The state is spending $300 million for 300 jobs over 10 years.
“A million (dollars) a job,” he said.
While no one concentrated on Gov. Dannel Malloy’s contention that Jackson Labs project will create thousands of jobs in the long run, Peña said there were other benefits. The temporary 800 construction workers and permanent ones will be out in the communities, patronizing restaurants and businesses. He also said realtors in Avon and Canton can benefit and that the Avon Chamber of Commerce is excited about some of the possibilities.
“We will benefit,” Peña said.
Revenue and the size of government
When it came to the size of government, revenues and expenses, the candidates also differed
The Democratic candidates feel the state has a revenue problem, while Republicans, especially LeGeyt, felt different.
Seger also said the state is losing business to neighboring ones due to higher taxes on some items.
“We need to be smarter about how ct taxes the people in their state,” Seger said.
Witkos advocated a return to 2010 spending levels and but added that the state needs to do better than the 40-percent funding of local education
“I think the state needs to learn to live in its means,” he said.
Witkos said previous consolidations have accomplished little.
Peña took the question to state that the two major parties needed to better learn how to work together. He agreed spending is out of control and that agencies can be consolidated and contracts examined.
“Let’s leave the party label outside and come together for a resolution,” he said. “We do need to get a handle on our spending.”
LeGeyt called services an “addictive process” said the state needs to privatize some services and carefully cut back others while keeping the “safety net.”
“We don’t have a revenue problem,” he said. “We have a spending problem.”
Peña countered that that was OK but not if it meant more unemployment.
“One is too many,” he said about any possibility of lost jobs.
Candidates also answered questions on medical marijuana, the Connecticut Board of Regents, transportation and more.
To hear their answers on those subjects and the full conversation on the others, watch the forum on Nutmeg TV (Comcast Channel 5) at 7 p.m. Oct. 26 and Oct. 30.