Boughton visits East Lyme for roundtable with local officials

East Lyme — In order for the state's economic recovery to be successful it must include southeastern Connecticut, Danbury Mayor and Republican governor hopeful Mark Boughton told local officials as he visited the region on Monday.  

"I know as I’ve traveled around this part of the state I’ve heard from people all over that sometimes they feel sort of forgotten, that they’re not on the radar for governor or for Congress or the federal government, and so I'm here today just to let you know that you are very much on the radar," he said.

Boughton, a nine-term mayor who is a former teacher and state legislator, stopped at Flanders Fish Market Monday afternoon for a roundtable discussion with local officials. The event featured state Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, and state Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, and about a dozen officials and members of Republican Town Committees from 20th District towns, including Waterford, New London, Salem, Montville, East Lyme and Old Lyme.

Boughton, who visited the region on Saturday for Celebrate East Lyme and held meetings in eastern Connecticut on Monday, said the state's comeback will only happen if "we’re all working together" and cashing in on some of the assets in southeastern Connecticut.

Boughton told the leaders on Monday that he understands that tourism is "a big issue" for the region. He said the state legislature's reduction in tourism dollars over the years is hurting Connecticut, as neighboring states invest more in tourism and draw people away.  

"We spend about $14 million a year in tourism money. Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York spend significantly more, and we're paying the price," Boughton said, adding that for every $1 invested in tourism, $7 is returned to the local economy.

Infrastructure, job training and economic development are among the other priorities for the region that Boughton listed.

He said a strong state and local partnership could bring New London — which he considers to be "one of the most physically beautiful cities in the state of Connecticut" — "to what it once was and what it could be."

With $20 million for Electric Boat's Groton facility and $8 million for EB's workforce training programs slated to go before the State Bond Commission on Wednesday, Boughton said after the roundtable that he supports that type of investment. He said the more younger people can be trained, the greater their value in the marketplace and the more revenue generated for the state. 

When asked if he supports the state pumping money into the planned Coast Guard Museum, with the State Bond Commission having approved in April $19.5 million for the pedestrian bridge associated with the project, Boughton said he has reservations, only because the museum is a "want" while the state has many "needs." Boughton said one of the state's problems is a culture of a legislature that wants items, such as a walking bridge or a bicycle path, that while important to the quality of life, come at a time when the state needs to make tough budgetary choices.

"I worry about that because then where do you draw the line?" he asked. "Is the next item a baseball park or some other kind of facility, a pool, or something like that? And we've seen that happen — and that all adds up in the end."

During Monday's roundtable, local officials shared their ideas for the region including finding ways to regionalize schools and services; maintaining state aid to municipalities; attention to the Norwich Hospital property and Fort Trumbull; the potential for a bike path from Norwich to New London; and highway improvements.

Timothy Griswold, treasurer in Old Lyme and former first selectman, raised the issue of weekend congestion on Interstate 95. He said that while the region wants tourism, he doesn't know how many people want to face that type of traffic to visit the area.

Acknowledging the congestion issues, Boughton said he is proposing a scaled-back version of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's plan to widen I-95 from Greenwich to Stonington that would "put help where help is needed." He said he wants to avoid projects that are so expensive that they will never get done, and instead work on projects that can alleviate traffic sooner, such as widening the interstate where it's possible without easements or environmental studies, improving on- and off-ramps and signalization, and working with businesses on when employees are released to moderate traffic.

Public-private partnerships for welcome centers; a comprehensive study of gaming in the state; and his proposal to decrease and then phase out the state income tax were among other topics Boughton discussed.

Boughton, who won the endorsement from the Republican party, will face four candidates, Tim Herbst, Steve Obsitnik, Bob Stefanowski and David Stemerman, in the Republican primary on Aug. 14.


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