Economy, state budget key issues in 40th District race

Candidates for the 40th District state House seat, Democrat Christine Conley and Republican John Scott shake hands at the conclusion of The Day's Lunch with the candidates forum at The Day's offices in New London on Sept. 13, 2016.  (Tim Cook/The Day)
Candidates for the 40th District state House seat, Democrat Christine Conley and Republican John Scott shake hands at the conclusion of The Day's Lunch with the candidates forum at The Day's offices in New London on Sept. 13, 2016. (Tim Cook/The Day)

Groton — Both candidates for the 40th District state House seat say the economy and state budget are central issues in the race, but they differ in their approaches on how to deal with those issues.

Republican incumbent John Scott, elected to his first term in 2014, said he supports the five-year budget plan proposed by Republican legislators that would sharply cut borrowing, hold taxes steady, impose a three-year wage freeze on state employees and protect cities and towns from cuts to municipal aid.

Democratic challenger Christine Conley, a three-term member of Groton’s Representative Town Meeting, said she believes the state can pay for services more economically. As a member of the RTM Finance Committee, she proposed a 5 percent across-the-board cut to accounts to start discussing ways to trim expenses.

“A lot of times, the conversation starts with the top number,” she said. “Where we had such a large hole in Groton this year, I felt the conversation needed to start with a lower number.” She said she would advocate the same approach at the state level, looking at each department and each line of spending.

Scott said a one- or two-year approach to budgeting is insufficient for businesses, because they plan years ahead and need stability. “We certainly have had our run of some good luck with Electric Boat and getting some subcontractors that will increase employment at Electric Boat,” he said. “But in the rest of the area, we’re still struggling to get storefronts filled and we can’t seem to attract other industries.”

Too many people are leaving the state, he added.

“What’s dismaying is the number of people that are telling me that once a milestone has been reached in their family, like a graduation or a retirement, that a for-sale sign is placed in their front lawn,” Scott said. “People are just done with the taxes and the business environment and they’re ready to move on. And my goal, if I’m invited back, is to work on things that will turn that image around so people will want to stay.”

Scott said he also plans to work on making use of the former Mystic Oral School property. The state recently shut off the lights, air conditioning and heat in the property’s buildings, which will allow them to deteriorate quickly, he said. Scott believes the buildings could be reused in a valuable way if limited access were provided to the Mystic River, he said.

"So I plan on coming back and spending more time working on this. I think we all need to agree that something should happen there," he said.

Conley, a lawyer with the firm of Lori M. Comforti in Norwich, said she wants to see Groton and Ledyard receive a greater share of state education funding. “Some areas received more money last year,” she said. “And those legislators did a great job for their towns.”

But Groton and Ledyard are struggling to keep class sizes down and meet other student needs, she said. The districts need more state support so they don't have to choose between maintaining class size and keeping extracurricular activities, she said.

The state also should invest in helping to solve the parking problem at Electric Boat, possibly by building a garage over existing lots, Conley said. She said she would work with U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, to protect the Naval Submarine Base.

Conley questioned whether Scott, owner and president of Bailey Agencies Inc. Insurance in Groton, would put his constituents' interests ahead of his business. She cited his opposition to a new law that requires insurance companies to pay for a new type of mammography.

Scott said he voted against the law because it would drive up insurance premiums that already have had double-digit increases, and it had a fiscal note that indicated it would cost the state $20 million. “I also think it’s important to point out that the governor also considered vetoing the bill for the same reasons I voted against it,” Scott said.

Both candidates said they believe they're uniquely qualified to hold the office.

"Every day, clients come into my office with problems. I solve those problems for a living," Conley said. "Groton, Ledyard and Connecticut have problems, both large and small, that need solutions. I will be solving problems in the General Assembly to get results for Groton and Ledyard."

"I remain an active entrepreneur, so I understand the needs of running a business, creating jobs, making payroll, and running a fiscally sound organization. All skills this state desperately needs," Scott said. "At the same time, I now have experience in Hartford, and therefore I've learned valuable lessons about collaboration and cooperation to get legislation moved forward."

d.straszheim@theday.com

Candidates for the 40th District state House seat, Democrat Christine Conley and Republican John Scott take questions during The Day's Lunch with the candidates forum at The Day's offices in New London on Sept. 13, 2016.  (Tim Cook/The Day)
Candidates for the 40th District state House seat, Democrat Christine Conley and Republican John Scott take questions during The Day's Lunch with the candidates forum at The Day's offices in New London on Sept. 13, 2016. (Tim Cook/The Day)

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