Murphy says state residents are focused on economic issues

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., stands during a media availability on Capitol Hill, Monday, June 20, 2016 in Washington. A divided Senate blocked rival election-year plans to curb guns on Monday, eight days after the horror of Orlando's mass shooting intensified pressure on lawmakers to act but knotted them in gridlock anyway ó even over restricting firearms for terrorists. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., stands during a media availability on Capitol Hill, Monday, June 20, 2016 in Washington. A divided Senate blocked rival election-year plans to curb guns on Monday, eight days after the horror of Orlando's mass shooting intensified pressure on lawmakers to act but knotted them in gridlock anyway ó even over restricting firearms for terrorists. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Norwich — U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., whose campaign ads show him hoofing it across the state, says the people he meets want to talk about economic issues.

“Not the Russia investigation, not impeachment,” Murphy told business leaders Monday during a breakfast meeting of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut at the Holiday Inn. “It’s the evergreen issues: the quality of schools, (the lack of) raises, the cost of health care …”

Acknowledging that he was “speaking to the choir,” Murphy said Connecticut has a lot going for it.

“We all need to spend more time cheerleading for the state,” he said. “We have stuff in Connecticut that nobody else has … I worry sometimes in this state that we focus only on the challenges. … We still lead all states in income and quality of schools. Our economy has grown in the last 12 months faster than that of any other New England state.”

The challenge for him, he said, is to push aside distractions and stay focused on the federal government’s investment in Connecticut, an area in which he had some success last year as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, helping secure funding for the state’s defense contractors.

Murphy said only 4 percent of the federal budget is dedicated to the kind of investment Connecticut desperately needs, including infrastructure improvements, education, research and science. And, he said, that 4 percent is going to shrink because of the tax cuts passed last year by a Republican-controlled Congress.

“It’s a disaster,” he said of the cuts. “It’s all borrowed (money). Next year, America’s debt as a percentage of GDP (gross domestic product) will be the largest since World War II.”

He made no mention of his opponent in the upcoming election, Republican Matthew Corey.

Regarding what’s ahead for Connecticut’s next governor, Murphy said Bob Stefanowski, the Republican candidate, should be pressed on his plan to eliminate the state income tax.

“Cuts like that mean closing schools on Fridays … doubling property taxes …,” Murphy said.

He suggested inefficiency in the delivery of services in Connecticut's 169 cities and towns and the lack of regional planning should be addressed.

“If I was the next governor, I’d start talking about how to consolidate services to save money,” he said. “Life has changed. The dream of suburban living in Connecticut has changed. People don’t want to move away from hubs.”

Murphy said the state needs to invest in its small “livable” cities like Norwich, New London and Willimantic.

“Then young people will want to stay in Connecticut,” he said.

The senator offered little or no hope that the federal government will provide school districts with more funding to cover special education costs, an issue raised by state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, who was in the audience.

“In our schools, special education costs are starting to overtake regular education costs,” Osten said.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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