Wednesday, October 05, 2016
Incumbent Democratic state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg of the 136th Assembly District and Republican challenger Catherine Walsh faced off today in a forum at the Westport Library hosted by the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce.
Steinberg, 60, who is seeking his fourth two-year term to represent the district that includes most of Westport, and Walsh, 61, chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z), both portrayed themselves as having the experience to help the state out of its fiscal woes.
Retired senior U.S. District Judge Alan Nevas of Westport, who held the 136th seat for six years in the 1970s, served as moderator and posed questions to the candidates before a noontime McManus Room audience of about 50 persons.
Steinberg, a former member of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM), touted his first-time endorsement by the Connecticut Business & Industry Association (CBIA) and efforts on behalf of the moderate caucus among legislative Democrats to make the state more business friendly.
“It is a clear choice,” he said. “I am the one supported by the business community,” adding that he has been recognized for his “bipartisanship and effectiveness in bringing change.”
Walsh, who has served on the P&Z since 2009, cited her experience as a steel industry executive and trader.
“The state is in a dire financial situation,” she said. “Cronies in Hartford have really blocked progress in the state.” She added that the reason she is running is she has “a very unique skill set” with “a deep knowledge of how government works.”
Walsh said she hoped to restore “some common sense” to Connecticut by addressing structural issues within the government.
The only way to do it is to change the makeup of the Democratic-controlled legislature and as well as the governor, she said. “It’s a numbers game,” Walsh said, noting that she has the endorsement of the Republican Party as well as the Independent Party.
Steinberg said talk of changing the composition of the legislature is mere “rhetoric.” What is needed, he said, is what the CBIA has advocated—going to zero-based budgeting, results-based accountability, and taking some of the expensive state services and farming them out to the private sector.
Both candidates cited the controversial 8-30g state statute as a real issue for Westport. They agreed that until 10 percent of its housing stock is deemed affordable, or until it achieves moratorium points with more affordable housing, the law will leave Westport at the mercy of developers.
Steinberg said that Walsh was part of the P&Z decision to rezone the town-owned Baron’s South property that cut off a planned senior housing development next to the Westport Center for Senior Activities that would have added moratorium points.
Walsh countered that the Baron’s South plan was “ill conceived” and that she and fellow members were working with three developers on a senior housing zoning amendment that would provide additional housing for seniors. “It’s over,” she said of the Baron’s South effort. “Let’s move on.”
Steinberg said he had battled in Hartford to make changes in the 8-30g statute but that he was up against urban legislators who supported the statute.
Walsh said the state’s prevailing wage statutes and “overly generous” pensions were impacting efforts to improve the state’s fiscal situation. “Unless structural changes are made, nothing is going to work,” she said.
Steinberg said the prevailing wage had little to do with the state’s fiscal woes. There needs to be reform of Medicaid, he said, among other things, and noted that debt service is 10 percent of the budget.
A key to improving Connecticut’s economy, Steinberg said, was to break the cycle of poverty and crime by creating more jobs through growing the biosciences industries, green technology, and precision manufacturing.
“It’s about creating jobs at the grassroots level,” Steinberg said.
Walsh said she had spent her life putting deals together, “talking to people up and down the ladder.” “I know how to find common ground with a lot of different people,” she said. “I think that’s my strength.”
Steinberg said the legislature was very different than the business world. “Ask my Republican colleagues,” he said. “They’ll tell you I am nonpartisan.” He said Westport needs someone in Hartford with his legislative experience.
Steinberg cited his efforts in getting changes friendly to business in the budget implementer bill. “We actually got something we asked for -– rolling back business tax increases in the implementer,” he said. “What we need is reform of the implementer.”
Both candidates said they favored investment in infrastructure, making the “lockbox” solid to provide funds for transportation improvements, and prison reforms.
Steinberg said Republicans were opposed to the mileage tax, tolls, raising the gas tax, and fare increases but had failed come up with alternate solutions to pay for transportation improvements.
Walsh said the state needed to come up with a five-year plan and set targets for spending on transportation. She said there is a “lot of work to be done” in the way the Connecticut Department of Transportation operates, adding it is spending too much money and not focusing on deferred maintenance.
Steinberg said there already is a five-year plan and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has announced a 30-year transportation improvement plan. “A plan is in place,” he said,” but we need the resolve to follow it through.”
Nevas quipped that Metro-North seems to be making a contribution to this by restoring bar cars to the New Haven Line.
The two will meet again at Earthplace on Wednesday, Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. to debate environmental issues.
This story has been updated to change Catherine Walsh’s age to 61.
Posted 10/05/16 at 04:04 PM Permalink
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We all need to be honest with ourselves—Jonathan Sternberg help pass the 2 largest TAX INCREASES in the states history. He cannot deny that he voted for both implementers that approved these tax increases. In addtion, he also voted to increase the death tax as part of one of the implementers. He cannot avoid his record.
If the House or Senate does not cg=hange party leadership, then Jonathans vote in hartford will mean nothing. The Hartford leaders do not care about Fairfield County—I know. I work on the States Spending Cap Commission and I hear it at every meeting.
Lets remember, Jonathan Steinberg said at one of the commission meetings…Westporters are not talking about leaving CT. He denied this was an impoirtant topic for Westorters and then said what he hears are Westporters talking about other topics. Really? Westporters are not considering leaving the state due to the financial issues, high taxes, Metro North issues and the death tax?
Zero based budgeting is not going to solve the states issue—we have a HUGE pension liability that needs to be resolved. First—we need to use a realistic disocunt rate, 2nd we need to stop COLA increases on pensions and we need the state employees to pay more than 2% towards their pensions. Come on Sternberg—you cannot stand up against the state pension issues—can you?
Farming out work—while it sounds good—will do nothing to solve the financial death spiral we face in CT. The Govenor is borrowing money to help pay itnerst on existing bonds. We are borrwoing money to pay interest on money we already borrowed. And we are using bonds to pay for ordinary expenses. We need strong fiscal control and the ability to stand up and fight to stop the spending. Jonathan—you voted for 2 huge tax increases to try and solve the states problems and did nothing in those implementers to cut spending. In fact, we gratned some state employees 11 more years of the nonsense. You approved that all.
Jonathan—you also know that the state just apid over 4200 million to KEEP a business in CT. The business environemnt is horrible with the threat of the unitary tax and taxes and computer services. Your caucus will approve these new atxes and there is nothing you can do to stop it.
I wish us all the best. The state is in a financial mess—a death spiral. State revenues are declining as the wealthy and some businesses leave (Jonathan—remember GE), and state expenses growing. The unfunded pension plan is chokcing the state.
Your vote matters—-vote for change—please!!!!