Ritter vs. Siragusa redux in 38th

Editor’s Note: This version corrects the location of the candidate forum, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23, at the Waterford Public Library on Rope Ferry Road.

In a repeat House of Representatives race from two years ago, incumbent Democrat Betsy Ritter will face Republican candidate Tony Siragusa.

As candidates for the 38th District - which encompasses Waterford and southwestern Montville - Siragusa is pitching a similar platform as in 2010 but focused on balancing the state budget by cutting spending, while Ritter is looking for a fifth term to continue work on job creation, benefits for small business and education reform.

Siragusa said he'd work to reduce costs at the state level by proposing a 2 percent cut across all state agencies but would exempt the state police and correction facilities.

Ritter "couldn't disagree more" with across-the-board cuts.

"We started with a $3.6 billion deficit and finished up with a $200 million deficit, which we were able to cover. That's pretty phenomenal work for two years, but it was not without pain," she said.

"It was painful for everybody. I'm not happy that we increased taxes, don't get me wrong, but I am at least feeling that we are in a stronger position than we were two years ago."

A former 29-year employee of the state Department of Transportation, Siragusa said he thinks that agency could "absorb" a 2 percent cut.

He said he would support the hiring of more correctional officers to help reduce high overtime bills accrued from both low staffing and from employees who put in extra hours in their last three years to qualify for a higher pension.

"I don't believe anybody should make more than their salary in retirement. It just doesn't seem right. It's unreasonable," Siragusa said.

When the volunteer handyman approaches his potential constituents about their concerns, he says he hears one thing: reduce property taxes.

"The only way to keep property taxes down is for the state to provide more money to the towns in an effort to freeze property taxes," he said.

He also said that taxing items that are "non-essential" to living should be the state's priority.

"We have the second highest gas tax in the country. To survive, you need gasoline, you need heating fuels. The people shouldn't be taxed on items they need to survive. Tax the items that are luxuries," Siragusa said.

Ritter, a four-term representative, said she is cautiously optimistic about this year's election.

She's knocked on thousands of doors throughout her hometown of Waterford and neighboring Montville, and she said the voters are most concerned about jobs. She's participated in aggressive steps toward balancing the budget this past term and plans to continue steps begun through the jobs initiative bill, which passed this time last year.

"We need to do more to pave the way and support our smaller and hopefully growing small businesses and entrepreneurs," Ritter said. "For small businesses, it's harder and harder to come by the dollars you need. I would so love to see an opportunity to give small businesses a better path to grow."

She is also looking at an opportunity for New London, reflecting the state's recent release of its deep water port study.

New London is the state's only natural deep water port, and Ritter said it would be "wonderful" to strengthen the city's transportation confluence and link it to potential rail initiatives.

"This expansion could be critical for us," she said. "Up until 2008, all the lumber coming in to southern New England came into New London. Sometimes it takes money to pursue those opportunities, and we'll have to look into that."

Both candidates are scheduled to speak at a forum at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Waterford Public Library on Rope Ferry Road.

j.hanckel@theday.com

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