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135th STATE HOUSE DISTRICT: Karvelis says he’s ‘uniquely suited’

Leon Karvelis

Leon Karvelis

Leon Karvelis wants to bring his business and educational background and experience to the 135th House District. To do that, the Redding Democrat is challenging the incumbent, Redding Republican John Shaban, for the post.

The 135th District includes all of Weston, Easton, and part of Redding.

Mr. Karvelis, a retired businessman who describes himself as a fiscal conservative and a social progressive, is a former inner city teacher, a school board (Region 9 —Joel Barlow High School) member, and vice president of Cooperative Educational Services, a regional resource for schools. He has 30-plus years’ experience in business development, specifically with state and local governments, where he provided fiscal and economic analysis and advisory services.

This background makes him “uniquely suited” for the legislature, he said, because his background “is different than the majority of the people in the legislature. I would bring a very important perspective” to Hartford.

The candidate said he is “totally unconflicted and [has] no allegiance to any career, corporation, client, industry, lobby, or extremist group.”

“I want to take my marching orders from the people,” he later added.

Mr. Karvelis contends that his opponent in the race is not well known. “I’m trying to reach out to people in the district,” he said, adding he has already knocked on 1,000 doors and made 2,000 phone calls to people in the district.

He said it’s imperative for legislators to “find out what people think.”  If elected, and if the Democrats remain in the majority as he expects, he said he would be “better able to voice people’s concerns. I want to bring their voices” to the majority party’s caucus, “where the decisions are made … and to let them know about the concerns of Fairfield County,” he said.

Economy

When discussing the economy, Mr. Karvelis said the state, along with others, is under “serious fiscal pressure.” Calling it “the Great Recession,” he said neither party is proud of its record, fiscally or economically. Both did a disservice with public employee pension liabilities, he said, pointing to the lack of proper funding.

Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, has begun to fund the pension obligation and a rollback in benefits. Major steps are still needed to bring things in line, said Mr. Karvelis, “and my background can help facilitate this.”

Budget

Speaking about the state’s budget, he said it is “ludicrous” not to find savings. He pointed to how Region 9 works, where administrators are asked to show how a 1%, 2%, etc., budget cut would impact a proposed budget.

“We then make the tough decisions. This is an approach I would take with large government,” Mr. Karvelis said. “The bottom line is we can’t afford tax increases for the middle income. The focus should be on the expense level and a moderate spending trajectory.”

He said the goal is “to try to create smarter, not bigger,  government. … I will work with people on both sides of the aisle to fix things.”

Property taxes

Another serious issue for the state is property taxes, Mr. Karvelis said, especially for the elderly on fixed incomes and single mothers with no jobs. A study needs to be done to find out how other states handle property taxes and how they might be brought down in Connecticut, he said.

Mr. Karvelis would like to design a budget to lessen the pressure on local governments, through steps such as getting rid of unfunded state mandates — mandates that require property taxes to fund them.

He does not know what mandates the state’s recent education reform act may bring. “School administrators are also concerned about what this will cost taxpayers,” he said.

Income tax

The brackets for the state income tax were raised, Mr. Karvelis said, but when the tax affects people in the middle, “it bothers me. I’d rather see those who have done well pay more.” But he added that Connecticut’s state income tax is still competitive with other states’. “The income tax is not outrageous.”

The state’s estate tax should have a higher threshold level, he said, and the franchise tax should be eliminated for small businesses.

“We have to retain people and money here,” said Mr. Karvelis.

In the midst of “The Great Recession,” he said, “I don’t want people on the streets, people without affordable health care. We have to keep in mind these people with certain needs.”

Former Republican

A former Republican, Mr. Karvelis now describes himself as on “the right side of the Democratic Party … a Clinton Democrat, a conservative Democrat.”

Mr. Karvelis criticized Mr. Shaban’s environmental record, and pointed to his low scores on the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters’ annual survey.

Mr. Karvelis also cited several bills where he disagreed with Mr. Shaban’s vote, including a vote against collection points for unwanted pills and labeling for genetically modified organisms in food.

“In terms of the environment, I’m the ‘un-Shaban’ candidate,” said Mr. Karvelis, who added he is proud of the Sierra Club’s endorsement of his candidacy. If he is elected, his conservation league score “would change rather dramatically for the better,” said Mr. Karvelis.

Education

As the state continues to deal with education reform, Mr. Karvelis said, he would bring an inner city perspective to it.

The state has an achievement gap, he said. On one end are schools that are the best in the country, and on the other, schools like those in Alabama and Mississippi, he said.

He is concerned that mandates may be “foisted” upon high-quality schools and taxpayers that the education reform law did not intend to target. It was designed to help low-performing schools.

“In representing the people, I would try to minimize the impacts from a financial point of view,” Mr. Karvelis said. “Our issue is to make sure we deliver high-quality education to our students in a cost-effective manner.”

The curriculums of the higher education system and lower schools need to be linked with what employers need, he said. More emphasis should be put on technical and vocational education, he said, noting that people can do well in crafts and trades.

When it comes to teacher evaluations, Mr. Karvelis said, “I don’t want teachers scapegoated,” but when a teacher needs help, it should be given to them. He also favors a shortened tenure cycle.

Top priorities

Asked for his top two priorities next legislative session, Mr. Karvelis placed jobs and the environment at the top of his list, but said jobs are “A-number-one in fixing a lot of problems in the state.” When people get jobs, they spend money that creates the need for others to get jobs, he said.

Among the major issues the state legislature must address, he said, are the state’s fiscal problems, “which are largely driven by a serious economic recession,” the need to create jobs, and the continuance of the education reform that began last legislative session.

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