State Senator L. Scott Frantz (R-36th) and his Democratic challenger Daniel Dauplaise fielded questions on topics ranging from the state's current fiscal mess to taxes to energy to immigration during a lively candidates' debate held Thursday at the Round Hill Community House in Greenwich.
More than 50 people attended the event, which was moderated by Greenwich Representative Town Meeting Moderator Pro Tempore Joan Caldwell and sponsored by the Round Hill, Northeast and Northwest Greenwich associations.
"Connecticut used to be such a fabulous state, but it's in real trouble now primarily because of its fiscal issues," said Frantz, who was elected in 2008 and currently serves as Assistant Minority Leader and on the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee, as well as serving on the Banks Committee, Commerce Committee and Transportation Committee. "We have so many people leaving the state because the taxes are simply too high — whether you're talking about the estate tax, the income tax or any one of the other 382 different taxes the state imposes."
The exodus, he said, has hit the state hard in terms of revenue.
"We've lost over $31 billion worth of gross adjusted income between 1995 and 2007," Frantz said. "This is absolutely unacceptable because our tax base is going to other states. It needs to remain here to pay for this ever-expanding state government we have, which is growing by about 7 percent a year, and has for about the past 30 years."
Frantz, who lives in Greenwich, said he has been fighting for "smaller, more affordable state government that serves the people, but doesn't do more than it needs to do."
"And that's my job, is to make sure that against a backdrop of a Democratically controlled state government… good laws are passed and the bad laws including bad budgets are stopped," he said.
Dauplaise, who hails from Stamford and holds a degree in government from Cornell University, said if elected Nov. 6 he would take a "holistic" approach to solving the state's fiscal problems.
"You can't just boil it down to a number on an income tax form," the 27-year-old said. "We have to consider what kind of state we want to build and what kind of state we want to live in. My campaign has emphasized health care, transportation, education and public safety as the four bedrock areas for improvement in the state."
"It's not all about taxes — sometimes it's about good governance," Dauplaise added. "It's about compromise — and it's about going up to Hartford and saying 'what can I do to make my life better.' It's not about flying up there, hitting the 'No' button and flying home."
The 36th District includes Greenwich, Stamford and New Canaan.
When asked if he would support lowering the estate tax, Dauplaise indicated he would, as it is "duplicitous being on top of the federal estate tax." However he added that if elected he would want to reevaluate the state's entire revenue picture before singling out any one tax.
"We need to reevaluate the way we tax," he said, adding that the state's income tax and capital gains tax are no longer reliable sources of income.
"We saw this during the recession in 2008 — Connecticut incurred a $3.8 billion budget deficit because we didn't account for the fact that everyone's investments and salaries were going to go away… " Dauplaise said. "We need to reevaluate the way we assess taxes in general. We can't look at one tax in a vacuum and say 'that tax is bad' and 'that one is good' — we need to holistically change the way we generate revenue."
Dauplaise said one of the reasons the state's costs are out of control is because it contracts a majority of its work.
"The state hires lots of workers and employs them using contracts," he said, adding that he used to be a contract negotiator. "And one of the problems with [contracting labor] is that when times are good, it's very easy to make contracts big… "
"We have to make good decisions about how we are going to pay our workers, giving them a fair wage while at the same time being fair to the taxpayers," Duplaise said. "So I will work hard with the Labor Committee to ensure fair and fiscally responsible contracts."
When asked what he would do to correct the state's "underfunded pension" situation, Duplaise said there is no other solution except to boost revenues.
"Revenue is the way we're going to solve that problem," he said. "You can't solve an unfunded pension mandate by cutting taxes. You need to look holistically and understand what is happening on the base line. How can we best generate revenue to fund what is admittedly a very large mandate? We have to work hard — and we have to look at all the options — and that I what I would bring to the table. I would go to the legislature probably as the most conservative Democrat among the 36 Senators and probably the most conservative Democrat in the entire state legislature."
Frantz pointed out that the Democrats have been in control of the state legislature for most of the past 40 years and "they have neglected for nearly four decades to take care of these accounts."
"We are 46 percent funded in the pension — this is nearly mathematically impossible to catch up on," Frantz said, adding that in each of the past four years he has presented a bill calling for a reduction the assumed rate of return, only to have it rejected by the Democrats. He said last year when he tried to introduce the bill the Democrats "had absolutely no interest whatsoever…"
"It's a cultural mind set that is the most serious problem facing the unfunded liabilities," Frantz said.
When asked whether or not he considers Gov. Dannel Malloy's "First Five" initiative to retain attract businesses in the state a success or failure, Dauplaise said "sometimes it's necessary to provide tax breaks or low interest loans to encourage a business to come to Connecticut and bring jobs with it."
"But I think in doing that we can also ask those businesses that they integrate with our communities — that their employees actually move here," Dauplaise added.
Frantz said in his view the best way to attract and retain businesses in the state is to not only lower taxes but also improve education and transportation.
"The problem is that the state is ranked [at the bottom of the pile] in terms of business — that includes taxes, costs of doing business, electricity, regulatory environment and salary," Frantz said, adding that if the state focused on making Connecticut a better place to do business in general, "then we wouldn't have to dole out literally billions in tax credits and forgivable loans." He added that most of this funding is distributed "without a whole lot of oversight by the General Assembly."
"Jackson Labs is [receiving] $300 million for 300 jobs, ten years down the road," Frantz said. "So for the next nine and a half years Jackson Labs doesn't have to hire anybody. It's a forgivable loan plus a $10 million per year grant. It is exceptionally expensive. That's $1 million a job… or close to it."
Similarly, Bridgewater Associates has been approved for more than $124 million worth of incentives that will be distributed over a ten year period "just to move the company two towns closer to the New York border — it's not even bringing a new company in [to the state], does that make sense?" Frantz said.
"Meanwhile the unemployment rate, after the [First Five] program has been in place for six months, has jumped to 9 percent — close to the highest in the country," Frantz said.