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Carney, Pugliese run for 23rd District House seat

The state's economy and affordability are top issues in the 23rd House District race between incumbent State Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Lyme, and Old Saybrook Democratic candidate Matt Pugliese.

Carney, 34, an Old Lyme resident and a realtor in Old Saybrook, is seeking his third term to represent the 23rd District, which encompasses Lyme, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook and Westbrook. Carney, who graduated from Old Saybrook public schools, holds a bachelor's degree from Brandeis University.

In the General Assembly, Carney is the ranking member on the Transportation Committee, serves on the Environment Committee and the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, and co-founded the bipartisan Young Legislators Caucus.

Pugliese, 36, of Old Saybrook is the managing director and executive producer at Connecticut Repertory Theatre at the University of Connecticut and former executive director at Oddfellows Playhouse Youth Theatre. He holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in public administration from UConn.

Pugliese chairs the Old Saybrook Economic Development Commission and has been on the board of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce and co-chairman of the Community Foundation of Middlesex County's "Live Local Give Local 365" campaign.

After serving two terms, Carney said he brings experience and has leadership positions in the legislature. He listed accomplishments that include helping to prevent unfunded mandates and additional taxes, working to improve laws related to the opioid crisis, and helping to stop a rail bypass that would have cut through Old Lyme and to prevent funding a study for a mileage tax when the tax seemed unpopular.

Pugliese said it's important to bring a different perspective to Hartford. He said he has real-world experience, including nonprofit experience working with a variety of organizations throughout the community and 12 years in executive leadership. He also said he ran a nonprofit during the recession, when budgets were tight, and has experience with contract negotiations. 

Carney said his priorities are improving Connecticut's economy and getting a handle on the state's debt and then improving the business climate and making it more affordable to live here. 

"I think that folks in Connecticut pay too much in taxes, too much in fees, and we really need to pull back on that so we can really compete with not only the states around us, but states to the south of us," he said, adding that he's seen too many people leave, or express the desire to leave, for lower-tax states.

If Republicans gain control at the state level, Carney said he would like to see efforts like "zero-based budgeting."

Pugliese said that in the nonprofit sector, "we squeeze everything we can out of every penny to maximize service delivery" and he said the state needs that style of leadership. He said the state needs to develop strategic priorities on how to grow the economy in the short term and long term, and how to cut spending without exacerbating any existing problems in the community.

"We really need to focus on Connecticut’s hard-working middle class," said Pugliese, when asked of his top priority, "and I really think that looking at affordable housing, looking at affordable health care and looking at paid family leave are ways to support working families and also to support small businesses and that it’s not just a matter of individual benefits. It’s also a matter of regional economic competitiveness for the state."

Pugliese said that when he sat down with University of Connecticut students and asked what would keep them in state, one of the first things they said was paid family leave, which by the end of 2019 New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island will all have in place. He said a proposal brought forward in which everyone pays a small percentage would allow residents to take leave to start a family, or to take care of a sick family member.

Carney said paid family leave is a worthwhile idea but it would be really difficult to implement now because of the state's weak economic climate. He said he would be open to offering tax credits if a private company wants to provide paid family leave. He said paid family leave in Connecticut could be a possibility in the future.

"I think it’s a good idea, but it's just right now we can't continue to add new programs, add new burdens, when we can't pay for what we already have in place," he said.

Both candidates provided their positions on tolls, when asked by The Day.

"Connecticut’s the only state on the Eastern Seaboard that doesn’t have any tolling," Pugliese said, "and so I would like to look at making sure that we do tolling in a way that would be electronic, so that there’s not additional toll booths causing traffic issues and that we’re doing it in a way that is going to bring in additional revenue, because I would rather have people from out of state paying 40 percent of those tolls than not paying anything at all. And I think that there are ways to either look at tax rebates or discounts for in-state residents so that it is not a regressive impact on people in Connecticut and that there's a smart way to do that."

Carney said the state first needs to see how much it would cost to maintain the tolls, install the toll gantries and run the program, and to figure out who would run the program. He said that he hears from people who would be fine with border tolls, but he said the state can't just do border tolls because it violates federal law. But he said if the state were to move forward with tolls and put in a toll plan that focuses on out-of-state drivers or truck drivers, there could be some potential compromise.

"I would not, though, support any sort of a toll plan where 70 percent of the revenue from tolls would be coming from Connecticut residents and drivers," he said, adding that Connecticut already has one of the highest gas taxes and the burden would fall on lower-income people more.

The environment is a priority for both candidates. Carney, co-chairman of the Clean Energy Caucus, said he's devoted a lot of time to making Connecticut a better place for clean energy and championed protecting open space and ensuring Long Island Sound and the Connecticut River are clean and preserved.

Pugliese said protecting the shoreline is a key issue. With the frequency of superstorms in the past decade, he said the state needs to work on environmental initiatives to slow climate change and protect the coastline, which he called "our most important economic resource."

Both candidates emphasized the need to work with the other side in Hartford. Carney said he is proud of working in a bipartisan manner in the legislature, and Pugliese said he is a leader who would reach across the aisle.

k.drelich@theday.com

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