Ahead of primary, Stemerman promotes his business-minded approach in Mystic

Mystic — Standing in the Lighthouse Bakery, Republican gubernatorial candidate David Stemerman and Stonington First Selectman Rob Simmons want to make a point about tourism.

The men reach into their wallets. Stemerman doesn't have a $1 bill, so Massoud Kalkhoran, who owns the bakery with his wife, grabs one out of the tip jar on the counter and hands it to him. Stemerman, a former hedge fund manager, then hands the dollar to Simmons, who gives him back $3. Their point: every $1 spent on marketing Connecticut to tourists generates $3 in tax revenues, a statistic often cited by the tourism industry.

That's why, Stemerman said, he wants to lower Connecticut's hotel lodging tax, which is at 15 percent, and increase, or at least restore, the tourism budget.

A day after announcing his plan for eastern Connecticut, which includes his tourism proposals, Stemerman made a stop in Stonington, where he received a warm welcome from Simmons.

Simmons, who said "I don't endorse," carried around a hard copy of the Hartford Courant's endorsement of Stemerman on the Republican side tucked in his back pocket.

Stemerman, 49, of Greenwich, who is married with five children, is one of five Republicans on the ballot for the Aug. 14 primary. It's his first time running for political office.

The two men visited several businesses on the Stonington side of Mystic on Tuesday afternoon, including two owned by Simmons' son-in-law. In visiting with business owners, the two pushed for eliminating the business-entity tax, a $250 tax paid biennially by every business in the state, and increasing tourism funding.

Mystic Pet Shop co-owner Genevieve Triplett said her issue is the sales tax. Owning a business less than 10 miles from the Rhode Island border, she wants to remain competitive. Rhode Island is at 7 percent so she wouldn't want Connecticut to go any higher than that, she said.

Stemerman told a few of the business owners about growing up in Newton, Mass., when it was called "Taxachusetts," losing families and businesses.

He credits the leadership of former Massachusetts Republican Govs. Bill Weld, Mitt Romney and Charlie Baker with turning the state around through a business-oriented approach, cutting taxes and regulations.

"The state is now booming," Stemerman said.

He decided to start a business in Connecticut and move to the state because of its reputation as a low-cost place to live and do business, and because it had low taxes.

"That's been eroded," Stemerman said. "Let's start to look at the state like a business."

He promoted his plan to cut $3 billion in taxes, including cutting personal income taxes and reducing the state's tax brackets from seven to three, and eliminating the business entity tax.

To pay for that, Stemerman is proposing $2 billion in spending cuts, which he said would come from privatizing health care and social services, and "attracting" private investment and management of the state's bridges, roads and airports. Other savings would come from restructuring state employee bargaining agreements, reducing the state employee compensation to match the level of the private sector and reducing the number of state employees, he said.

j.bergman@theday.com

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