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New London — State Sen. Andrea Stillman and Republican challenger Mike Doyle debated job creation, taxes and state spending in a debate that was at times contentious before an audience of about 60 people Wednesday at the New London Senior Center.
Stillman said legislation she helped pass is currently growing jobs in southeastern Connecticut and throughout the state, and that she supported the state working with Jackson Laboratory to create a personalized medicine laboratory at the University of Connecticut Health Center to "grow a bioscience corridor" that will create more jobs.
Doyle was highly critical of the state contributing nearly $300 million for the Jackson Lab project and mentioned it several times. He argued it would create far fewer jobs than advertised and the money could have been better spent by investing in small businesses in the 20th Senate District.
Stillman, D-Waterford, is serving her fourth term representing East Lyme, Montville, New London, Old Lyme, half of Old Saybrook, Salem and Waterford. She is deputy majority leader of the Senate and the Senate chairwoman of the legislature's Education Committee. Improving the quality of public education has long been one of her biggest priorities.
Doyle, a New London native, has 21 years of experience in state service, including six years as executive assistant to the Commissioner of the Department of Correction and 12 years as former director of the Governor's Eastern Connecticut Office. He has said he would not support any further spending or tax increases.
Several questions from the audience were about property tax reform. Stillman said that while reducing property taxes "is a focus as it always has been," these taxes also are crucial to providing resources for local communities. She said the state should consider paying the full cost of special education to reduce the burden on cities and towns.
"We need to work with the governor's office to help lower property taxes, and that's something I will continue to work on," she said.
Doyle blamed the state legislature for passing too many unfunded mandates, and said the district "deserves a senator who understands that taxes are already too high." He called for investment in the transportation sector, particularly the railways, to "open up southeastern Connecticut."
Stillman said the state is looking to expand Shore Line East, but it is difficult to do because Amtrak owns the tracks.
Wednesday's forum was the second in a series organized by The Day between now and Election Day for candidates in state Senate and House races.
Day Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere served as the moderator and the public submitted written questions.
Choiniere said he would give each candidate a chance to address a "hardball question," and asked Stillman about a rumor that she lived part of the year in Florida while Doyle was asked to explain how citizens could trust him with the state's business since he worked for former Gov. John G. Rowland as the director of the Eastern Connecticut Office.
Stillman adamantly stated that she lives in Waterford. Doyle said he was proud of his prior service, because he helped projects for local communities move forward.
The two candidates sparred over Pfizer Inc.'s reason for possibly leaving the area, with Doyle contending it was because the corporation can't find enough skilled labor locally and Stillman asserting it was because the tax credits had expired. The Jackson Laboratory project, she said, could provide work for Pfizer employees who want to stay in the area and new college graduates.
In closing statements, Stillman said she was proud of her record of creating jobs, maintaining state aid for cities and towns, reforming the educational system and helping to project the Naval Submarine Base in Groton from closure, and she asked voters for another term.
Doyle accused her of being part of the problem in Hartford. He said, "We need to change," and concluded by saying the district needs a senator who lives and works in the state the entire year, a reference to the Florida rumor.
Several Stillman supporters in the audience booed and one banged his hand on a table.