Coutu, Osten in 47th House District race

The 47th District state House of Representatives features one candidate offering "common sense" and the other countering with "perfect sense."

The district includes Sprague, Canterbury, Scotland and part of Norwich.

First-term incumbent Republican state Rep. Christopher Coutu of Norwich helped write the statewide Republican platform called "Common Sense," which advocates spending cuts, including employee salary and pension cuts, repealing some state bonding authorizations and reducing what it called "100 nuisance taxes and fees."

Coutu's Democratic challenger, Sprague First Selectwoman Cathy Osten, said she would bring the methods she used in Sprague to hold down taxes while continuing to provide basic and quality services to residents.

Sprague has not had a tax increase in three years, while the town added open space, improved roads and sidewalks, maintained summer park concerts and improved the town's business climate.

Osten called her approach "perfect sense," in that it did not require draconian cuts to services and town employees while keeping taxes in check.

Coutu has said during the campaign that the Republican minority has been thwarted continually in its efforts to cut spending by the veto-proof Democratic majority in Hartford. He repeatedly points out that he is the only Republican in the entire southeastern Connecticut delegation.

"If we did what we were supposed to do," Coutu said of the last legislative session, "we wouldn't have a $5 billion deficit."

Coutu wants to outsource more state services to private agencies that can handle them more efficiently at less cost. But he said the state then must keep its commitment to fund those private agencies.

"I'm going to say it: 'Expect state layoffs,'" Coutu said. "I know by talking to state employees that they expect layoffs."

Coutu said he believes the state can cut its management positions by 15 percent. The Common Sense platform also calls for cutting elected officials' pay by 10 percent and eliminating lawmakers' mailing privileges and travel expenses.

Coutu said cutting unfunded state mandates and temporarily suspending teacher tenure requirements and the mandate to pay prevailing wages on publicly funded projects would make up for any lost state revenue to cities and towns.

Osten finds holes in the Republican plan, especially coming from her perspective as a municipal leader and a retired state corrections officer. She said the state often enacts laws and enacts cuts without considering costly long-term outcomes.

"You can't just say 'cut the budget,'" Osten said. "You have to realize the consequences."

She cited the closing of the former Norwich Hospital in Preston and Norwich 15 years ago. The state promised to provide services for displaced patients with mental illness, she said, but that fizzled. As a corrections officer, Osten said, she saw many people in dire need of mental health treatment in the state's prisons, costing the state much more than hospital beds or treatment services and causing misery for patients-turned-inmates.

And the vacant hospital property remains in disrepair and undeveloped, Osten said.

She also objected to Coutu's call to reduce the town's portion of the real estate conveyance tax. The legislature raised the tax several years ago from $1.10 per $1,000 of the sale price to $2.50 for most towns and $5 for distressed municipalities, including Norwich. The higher rates are supposed to drop July 1 to $1.10 for most towns and $3.60 to distressed municipalities, and municipalities are lobbying to keep the higher rates.

Osten said Republicans' call to reverse the tax is hypocritical, because the state would keep its higher conveyance tax rate of $5 per $1,000, while cutting one of the few local sources of revenue outside the overburdened property tax.

But Coutu said reducing the tax is a promise the legislature made to the business community, and the state must learn to keep its promises.

"It was a promise that it would be temporary," Coutu said.

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