After eight years as a state representative, Carlo Leone, D-148, now wants to step into a state senate seat.
He's one of three candidates vying for Senate District 27, representing Stamford and Darien, in the upcoming Feb. 22 special election. vacated the post last month to join Gov. Dannel Malloy's administration as general counsel.
Leone, a Democrat, faces Republican candidate Bob Kolenberg, who lost the seat to McDonald in November, and Green Party candidate Rolf Maurer, a write-in on the ballot. Leone, 47, is an U.S. Air Force veteran and works as a program manager for the Bridgeport-based non-profit WorkPlace Inc., which provides unemployed veterans free training in green technology.
At the urging of McDonald and other Democrats, Leone said he put his name into the ring and feels he can have a more direct impact on Connecticut as a senator to create positive change.
"My top priorities would continue to be the budget and transportation," Leone said at a recent interview in a Stamford . He currently serves as a member of the Regulation Review and Transportation Committees in the House of Represenatives.
Creating jobs and reducing the deficit are other top goals, he said. Here's where Leone stands on several important issues facing the state:
"We've made inroads but there's always more to be done," Leone said citing new and the need to ease the flow of traffic congestion. Specifically he pointed to exits 14 and 15 on Interstate 95 in Norwalk and the need to widen those exits and extend the on ramps.
In terms of financing new infrastructure and transportation improvements, Leone said "what makes the most sense is investing in alternative fuels."
Being a leader in green technology will bring jobs and more revenues to Connecticut, he said. "We have to invest in the long run — that's a smart decision even if it costs more in the upstart."
ON ATTRACTING NEW BUSINESS
When it comes to investing in new industries or creating tax incentives to attract new employers and projects, Leone pointed to and the special taxing district he worked to create with others to bring the redevelopment project to Stamford's South End. What was once largely industrial is now home to resdential space, offices, the new , and more is yet to come.
"Four towns were looking to do that," Leone said of the project that has garnered national attention. "We are succeeding here in Stamford."
Leone said he'd like to continue creating tax incentives to bring new business to the district, citing legislation he was involved in that created film tax credits to allow for the growth of the entertainment industry in Stamford and throughout the state.
"I will continue to push the entertainment industry," Leone said. "I want to push energy and technology because that is absolutely the future."
With one of the worst business climate rankings according to a 2011 report by the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan, educational organization, Leone said Connecticut "has to become more business friendly."
"If we can't attract business and create jobs, people will rely only on government services," Leone said, adding that that is not an option. "We want people to chart their own destiny."
ON REDUCING THE DEFICIT
The budget and reducing the deficit will be top priorities this year and Leone said all the easy options are exhausted.
"Cutting slowly is disingenuous and not truthful," Leone said. "I'd rather be open and honest. You'll see a reduction in services. We'll find ones that are working well and keep those. You'll see a consolidation of agencies. We'll focus on our core strengths and get rid of middle management."
In addition to service reductions and management consolidation, Leone said the state will have to create room in the budget to borrow effectively for infrastructure.
As the former chair of the bonding committee, Leone said his committee voted unanimously to reduce the budget by 22 percent over the past two years.
"That was unprecedented," Leone said. "That is my strength. I can work with both parties."
He added that borrowing must be done in a smart way that will benefit transportation, education and energy over the next 20 to 30 years.
"That is the right thing to do and it creates jobs," he said.
Reducing the deficit can not be done on cuts alone, Leone said.
"Increases in fees and taxes will be looked at," he said. "We've passed tax credits and forgot them, so we'll look at which ones are necessary to keep and which ones we can get rid of.
"The total list is about $3.5 billion," he added. "If we eliminated all tax credits, it could cover the budget." But many of those credits go toward Medicare, churches and nonprofit organizations that would not make sense to cut, Leone said.
"Some will be looked at but not all of them," he said.
As far as fees go, Leone said some may need to increase, such as fines for speeding tickets.
"Income taxes will also be looked at," he said. "Those who can pay a little more, maybe will."
While Leone supports considering new taxes and spending, Leone says he has not supported every increase.
"Three years ago, the legislature proposed the largest tax increase on income that would have negatively affected southwestern Connecticut," Leone said. "Myself and the delegation down here stood against the party ... We had to protect our constituents and it garnered respect."
Leone cites his legislative and business experience and his established relationship with Gov. Dannel Malloy as reasons for why he would be the best candidate for Senate District 27.
"I can foster relationships with both sides," he said. "We're going into this huge fiscal nightmare so you want someone who most understands the players and the system. I have experience as a veteran, as a business executive and a successful eight years as a legislator gives me well rounded experience to get the job done up there."