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Groton - With political newcomer Republican Andrew Lavery in the race, Edward "Ted" Moukawsher, the Democratic incumbent in the 40th District, faces the first challenge to his seat in the state House of Representatives in six years.
Moukawsher, an attorney from Groton, was first elected in 2002 and has gone unchallenged in the past three elections. Lavery, a 10-year Navy veteran and small business owner, said he was inspired to run for office after working in the 2010 election campaign of Tim Plungis in his unsuccessful bid to unseat Rep. Elissa Wright in the neighboring 41st District.
The race takes place in a newly configured 40th District that now encompasses the northern third of Groton and a southern portion of Ledyard. It is the first election since the redistricting.
Lavery said if elected, he plans to focus his efforts on reducing financial burdens to towns and citizens. He wants to take a look at hundreds of unfunded mandates and calls for the repeal of prevailing wage - the mandated rate for pay to tradesmen working on town construction projects. Editor's note: This corrects an earlier version of this paragraph.
"I just don't understand what the benefit (of the prevailing wage) is. Everybody working on a town project gets 50 percent more than they would in the private sector. It increases costs to taxpayers. All we're doing is forcing property taxes to go higher. Just because you pay somebody more doesn't mean you're getting better work," he said.
Moukawsher said that while he agrees that property taxes are a burden, "it's more nuanced and complicated than just saying that we're going to cut taxes and cut spending."
"Nobody likes tax increases and we all like restrained spending," Moukawsher said. "As a state representative, I can't force towns to reduce property taxes, but I can try to help them. I think I've tried to take a pretty balanced approach to things."
Moukawsher said a focus of property tax reform must be education. "It's the state's obligation to provide equal and adequate education, and the major part of our budgets locally is education. Let's take a harder look at that."
Moukawsher said his record as state representative includes winning millions of dollars from the state for local construction projects at Robert E. Fitch High School, Catherine Kolnaski Elementary Magnet School and Groton's wastewater treatment plant.
Lavery said Moukawsher can point to accomplishments over the past years, but southeastern Connecticut continues to be plagued by job losses and a high unemployment rate.
"Life for everyone in Connecticut is becoming harder and harder. Businesses are hurting and it's expensive for the average person. People are leaving the state because of it. Across the board for citizens, we need to make it more affordable to live in the state," Lavery said.
He said he would work to repeal or scale back taxes implemented under the Malloy administration. "When it comes to fiscal matters, I'm very, very conservative. I have no problem borrowing money in an emergency situation - things like snowstorms and hurricanes. But to pay for day-to-day operating expenses, we shouldn't be borrowing money. We're creating a worse situation for our children."
Moukawsher said if elected, he plans to push for a shift in focus from the long pending plans for the expansion of Route 11 to pressing needs of Interstate 95. He would like to revive talks about expansion of the highway to three lanes. The highway and the congestion in the area of the shoreline towns, he said, could one day become a major obstacle to tourism and businesses.
"This just doesn't impact southeastern Connecticut. It impacts the entire shoreline," Moukawsher said. "There needs to be long-term planning to address the needs of the future."
Both candidates say they would continue to help sustain the area's tourism and defense industries.