Candidates for 38th District face off on education funding, labor, party lines
A Hartford labor veteran and incumbent state representative are sharing the ballot for the 38th state House District with a political novice who wants voters to consider a third option in state politics.
Waterford school board members and incumbent Republican State Rep. Kathleen McCarty, retired labor commissioner Sharon Palmer, a Democrat, and University of Connecticut-Avery Point student and Green Party candidate Lauren Shaw debated issues facing the state and the 38th District, which includes Waterford and part of Montville, at a lunchtime forum Tuesday.
All three candidates said they were disappointed with the cuts made to state education funding for local towns, including Montville and Waterford, during negotiations for the 2015-16 fiscal year state budget.
The Education Cost Sharing grants, the primary state support for education to municipalities, was cut in the budget approved by state by more than $30 million, with Waterford taking a more than $1 million cut form last year and Montville losing more than $430,000.
“We have never had a cut this large, and there isn’t any reason for it,” she said, adding that McCarty’s Democratic predecessors in the seat would have been able to prevent the cuts.
“I would say that if we still had Andrea Stillman and Melodie Peters and Betsy Ritter representing us, that would never have happened,” she said.
McCarty pushed back, arguing that Republicans had pushed to restore education funding back into the state budget and pinned the cuts on Democratic legislators.
“It was really because of the failed policies of the Democratic majority party that they had to go back repeatedly with deficit mitigation plans,” she said. “For cost savings, they attacked education. I plan to go back and fight for it.”
Shaw sided with Palmer, pinning the cuts on McCarty.
“I would have liked to see more of a push to see that funding restored,” she said. “Ms. McCarty dropped the ball.”
Shaw added that a Hartford Superior Court judge's decision that Connecticut's education funding system is not equitable or adequate illustrated the state's education funding challenges.
Palmer, a former teachers’ union president and AFL-CIO officer, retired as labor commissioner under Gov. Dannel P. Malloy last year. She said she would want to see “everyone” come to the table to help bring down health care costs for state workers and address wage stagnation.
“I think that the cost of labor in Connecticut is high, the cost of benefits in Connecticut are high. Not just for unionized employees — that’s for all employees,” she said. “We need to look at everything in this budget crisis.”
But benefits for state union employees are “not sustainable,” McCarty said. She pushed union representatives to “realize that these are hard challenging fiscal times, and that we need to come together to find solutions.
Shaw, an Alabama native who moved to Connecticut when her father was stationed in Groton with the Navy, encouraged voters to consider voting for a third-party candidate as an alternative to the “two-party duopoly.”
“American politics…on the national, state and local levels need more choices and more ideas out there,” she said. “You should really be looking at voters who represent your values instead of voting for candidates who don’t.”
Shaw said she would support the public-private partnership that state officials have backed as a development plan for the site of the former Seaside property on Waterford’s shoreline, but said the prolonged process that led to Seaside becoming a state park would make it a bumpy road.
“I would like to see more done, more work … on the proposals so we can have a better idea of how it will actually be developed and whether they are an acceptable choice,” she said.
Palmer and McCarty both agreed they would like to see more details and public input on the specific plans for Seaside, which Malloy designated a state park in 2014 after a local dispute with a potential private developer.
Asked who their vote in the U.S. presidential election would go to, Palmer said she would vote for her party’s nominee, Hillary Clinton, and Shaw said she supports Jill Stein, the Green Party nominee and “the only true feminist in the race.”
McCarty has said for months that she was opposed to Donald Trump as the Republican candidate, and said Monday that she plans to write in another Republican name but has not decided who.
"I've worked very hard to advocate the values and principles of the Republican Party over many decades. The nominee does not represnt, in my estimation, those values or those principles," she said.
To watch a video of the full 10-question debate visit theday.com/section/lunchdebates2016.