Candidates for 37th District House seat say state's fiscal climate top priority

Both candidates for the 37th House District covering East Lyme and Salem said tackling the state’s budget crisis is the top issue for the upcoming election.

Republican Holly Cheeseman, an East Lyme selectwoman, and Democrat Beth Hogan, an East Lyme Board of Finance member, agree on the importance of bringing fiscal stability to the state and preventing both seniors and younger people from leaving, but have proposed different ideas.

Regardless of who is elected, the upcoming election will mean a new face for the General Assembly’s 37th House District, as Rep. Ed Jutila, D-East Lyme, will not seek re-election after 12 years in the seat.

Cheeseman, 61, serves on East Lyme's Board of Selectmen, is the executive director of the Children’s Museum of Southeastern Connecticut and has a background working in magazine publishing and with her late husband in his small business.

Cheeseman, also the president of the East Lyme Public Library's board and a member of the East Lyme Historical Society and Save the River-Save the Hills, said in a recent interview that she thinks people want a change and are frustrated with the policies of the Democratic majority. She noted that out of her five children, only two currently are living in Connecticut.

“I would love to have the kind of environment where not only people my age, but younger people felt they could have a successful future that wasn't out of reach because there weren't jobs or the cost of living was too high, or every time they turned around there was another crisis in Hartford that had people scrambling,” she said.

She ran unsuccessfully for state representative in 2010 and also started to run in 2012 before withdrawing for family reasons. Now, she said she thinks residents have a greater understanding of what a difference the fiscal health of the state makes to their personal welfare.

To stabilize the state's fiscal climate, Cheeseman said she supports realigning employee benefits with the private sector, longer-term budgeting and conducting a "cost-benefit analysis" of any new proposals.

She said the state should have a policy so any new taxes would "sunset" after the first year and need to be re-authorized if the state wishes to continue with the tax.

She advocates for implementing a moratorium on new mandates and regulations for both businesses and municipalities to create a business-friendly environment and avoid burdening towns and taxpayers with extra costs.

She pointed out that Connecticut has 1,250 mandates on cities and towns and proposed 143 new ones during 2015-16.

In addition to fixing the fiscal climate, Cheeseman also named addressing the opioid crisis and continuing to fund community colleges and vocational-technical schools as top priorities.

She further proposed borrowing an idea from Texas in which any student could visit a website to put in which state college or university and which major they were considering, and see what their salary would likely be if they graduated and stayed in state in five years.

Cheeseman said she is not afraid to go against her own party line, if she feels it is not in the best interest of her constituents.

"I would want to be responsive to the needs of my constituents, and persuade by the power of argument and collaborate with anyone who has good ideas," she said.

Currently on the Board of Finance, Hogan, 57, was the first selectwoman of East Lyme from 2005 to 2007 and has served on the Board of Selectmen and town Pension Committee. She is the co-owner of Seifert & Hogan, a law firm in Old Lyme, and a project manager at The Connection, a nonprofit in Middletown. 

Hogan is also on the board of directors for the Boys & Girls Club of Southeastern Connecticut, and she and her husband have a daughter.

In a recent interview, Hogan said she's running for state office because she believes she can make a difference in fixing the state's financial situation.

“I have the ability to work with anybody, of any ideological background, and find common ground," she said, adding that it's the only way the state will be able to solve the crisis because a major overhaul of the budget is needed. 

Hogan describes herself as a very approachable and open person who works across party lines. If elected, she said she would have community conversations about issues, then work with other representatives and do whatever homework it takes to inform and find common ground.

Hogan said she would conduct a thorough review of the $7 billion in tax incentives that the state has on the books and eliminate the ones that don’t make sense or yield a return on investment.

She is advocating for adhering to the commitment to set aside 15 percent of adjusted net revenue to the state’s “Rainy Day Fund," realigning the state’s pension system with the private market and budgeting on a five- to 10-year cycle.

"We need to take a longer view and build in a five- to 10-year plan that would bring more stability and reliability so we're not in crisis mode and looking to cut essential services and other things to the citizens of Connecticut," she said.

She said she does not want to raise taxes. She also said Hartford should listen to and implement solutions from a task force of municipalities that is studying ideas for property tax reform.

She also supports vocational-technical schools, as well as a proposal to provide young graduates with tax credits to pay down student debt or put money aside for homeownership.

To diversify southeastern Connecticut's economy and help people left behind during the recession, she said she would like to incentivize investments in the region's small businesses and start–ups, with ideas that include expanding the angel investor program to existing small businesses and easing some regulatory and tax burdens until the businesses are showing a profit.

“We're very bright and wide open with creativity and possibilities here,” she added. “It just needs more support.”


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