Candidates for 20th District state Senate seat debate

State Sen. Paul Formica and his Democratic challenger Martha Marx share a laugh as Marx shares some of her notes before the debate. (Tim Cook/The Day)
State Sen. Paul Formica and his Democratic challenger Martha Marx share a laugh as Marx shares some of her notes before the debate. (Tim Cook/The Day)

Waterford — Democrat Martha Marx accused Republican state Sen. Paul Formica on Monday night of failing to come up with any ways to boost state revenue and of instead proposing cuts detrimental to the 20th Senate District.

“I did not hear one way my opponent would raise revenue for the state,” Marx said at one point.

Formica, a two-term Republican incumbent from East Lyme, sparred with Marx, of New London, during the debate at the Charter Oak Credit Union headquarters in Waterford.

Formica said the bipartisan budget crafted during his time as co-chairman of the Appropriations Committee addressed a problem inherited from Democrats. He called it the result of one-party rule in Hartford that led to two of the largest tax increases in state history.

Both candidates are looking to represent the 20th District, which includes Bozrah, East Lyme, New London, Old Lyme, Salem, Waterford and portions of Montville and Old Saybrook.

The debate was attended by at least 200 people and sponsored by The Day and the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, with help from the League of Women Voters of Southeastern Connecticut.

Marx went on the attack early and said Formica was more apt to ask for a study then provide an action plan. Formica defended a bipartisan budget that included no tax increases, an emphasis on job creation and “no need for tolls.”

Formica said tolls “were not the answer,” and a Republicans plan would instead divert millions of dollars from discretionary bond funds to a special transportation account.

Marx said electronic tolls, used in surrounding states, would provide an immediate boost to funding for the state coffers. She also argued that recreational marijuana would not only be a source of revenue but of jobs.

“Let’s not be the last state to do it,” Marx said.

Formica was more cautious on the marijuana topic and said it needed more study, adding it was a “dangerous and slippery slope,” to legalize marijuana strictly for revenue.

“We don’t need a study,” Marx replied, and referred to the fact other states have already passed marijuana laws.

“We can call them up and ask them how it’s going,” she said.

It was a mostly cordial debate, though the two argued over facts, which prompted Formica at one point to accuse Marx of being “a wealth of misinformation,” when it came to figures on tourism dollars. Formica is co-chair of the legislature's tourism caucus.

The two were asked about Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski’s plan to phase out the income tax.

Formica defended Stefanowski.

“He’s not saying, 'I’ll get rid of the income tax next year.' That’s not possible,” Formica said. “I think the criticism of him is a bit unfair. My thought is here we have a guy who is looking to reduce taxes, create efficiencies and reduce spending, I’d rather go with a guy like that. Even if he was 50 percent successful we all win.”

Marx said Stefanowski’s plan came from “la la land” because it eliminated 50 percent of the state’s budget.

“That will never work. If you’re going to cut the income tax, then I’d like to know how you’re going to raise the revenue,” Marx said.

Marx also called for an increase to the minimum wage to $15 and said it would be the first way she would address the income inequality in the state.

Formica said he is not against fair wages but the wage need to be somehow tied to something such as the consumer price index.

“It takes it out of the political realm and into a measurable category,” he said.

But Formica said many small businesses would find it a hardship to pay the $15 figure, especially on top of the benefits offered by many.

Marx, 55, is a longtime registered nurse with the Visiting Nurse Association of Southeastern Connecticut, and in an interview prior to the debate promised that if elected she will focus more attention on health care issues, the working poor and education, “the things that keep me up at night.”

At one point Marx served as the president of the local nurse’s union. She is mother of four children.

She said she was always active in politics but not as a candidate for office. In about 2010, noting how many homebound patients didn't vote and had difficulty getting absentee ballots, she said she started helping get people out to vote no matter their party affiliation.

She later campaigned for current New London Mayor Michael Passero and in 2015 won a seat on the New London City Council. She failed in her City Council re-election bid in 2017.

Formica, 65, is running for his third term in office. He is the founder, owner and operator of Flanders Fish Market and Restaurant for 34 years. He served as first selectman in East Lyme from 2007 to 2015.

A widower, Formica is the father of four children.

Formica said having an equal number of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, 18-18, in the last session gave Republicans the rare chance “to bring more ideas to the table.”

“We’ve been in the minority for the last 33 of 35 years. We would be handed bills and budgets at the last minute and they’d say, ‘Here is what you’re going to vote on,’” Formica said. “There wasn’t much opportunity for input or bipartisanship.”

Formica argues that a spending cap and borrowing cap and other elements of the state budget have helped to stabilize the budget process.

“We need to find stability first and then try and turn the shop around with efficiencies and new policies moving forward,” Formica said in an interview prior to the debate.

g.smith@theday.com

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