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26th State Senate District: Boucher and Curry square off on election issues

Incumbent Republican state Senator Toni Boucher and Democratic challenger Carolanne Curry are contenders in the race for Connecticut’s 26th Senatorial district, which includes Weston.

In sit-down interviews with The Weston Forum’s sister newspaper The Wilton Bulletin, the two recently shared a host of contrasting viewpoints on the local economy, state energy, transportation, and education.

Ms. Boucher, a former member of the Wilton Board of Selectmen and Board of Education, now serves as deputy minority leader in the state Senate and is a ranking member of the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee, Education Committee and the Higher Education Committee.

Ms. Curry’s political experience includes several years in the Senate Democrat Majority Office as administrative assistant to the Senate majority leader and Senate president, working on legislative research, constituent services and public relations.

Local business

Ms. Boucher said the economic crisis of 2008 was a national crisis, but argued Connecticut has been particularly bad at handling budgetary policies in its wake.

Toni Boucher

“Connecticut embarked on a series of policies through its budgetary process that exacerbated the state’s problems and sped up the flow of jobs to outside Connecticut instead of towards Connecticut,” she said.

“The only way for jobs to increase is if businesses see Connecticut as a good place to grow and start businesses.”

Hindering growth are incremental increases to a variety of different state taxes, including sales, income, gas, and real estate, Ms. Boucher said.

“Individually that may not seem like a lot, but when you add them all together, small businesses end up carrying a huge burden,” she said.

Seniors also carry a major part of the tax burden, according to Ms. Boucher, because their income is generally flat, severely affecting their spending ability and quality of life.

She recommended that a state wage and employment freeze could be a prudent way to balance the budget without tax hikes.

Intolerable taxation, under which high-income residents and businesses are either leaving the state or closing stores, was also voiced as a major concern by Ms. Curry, especially at the small-business level.

She said she is in favor of cutting taxes on small businesses to promote growth, specifically the annual business entity tax, which is $250 regardless of the size of the business.

She would also like to see loopholes in corporate taxes closed in fairness to small businesses. These are two suggestions she received while conducting a “listening tour” of the county, she said.

Carolanne Curry

“The amount of taxes assessed against businesses is a real burden,” she said. “But if I could get in there I could start picking away at one small tax at a time.”

As for what could substitute the loss of revenue for the state, Ms. Curry said more profit would be created by thriving businesses that would be more content in staying and operating within Connecticut.

“We need to stop regressive taxing and begin incentivizing,” she said.

Energy

Ms. Curry and Ms. Boucher are largely in agreement on many energy issues, such as burying cumbersome and costly utility wires and investing in alternative energy sources.

“The green industry is waiting for us,” Ms. Curry said. “We need to lay out choices that are available to us … this decade that is the job market.”

Citing reckless investments at the federal level, she recommended looking at energy investments thoroughly. “I don’t think we’re going to make the mistake of wasting millions in a solar panel company like Obama did,” she said.

In light of the recent storms that rolled through the area, both candidates agreed more oversight of public utility companies is needed.

“There should be penalties if they don’t better serve consumers,” Ms. Boucher said, underscoring the fact that companies should be more accountable as they ask for higher rates and fees.

Both candidates also proposed burying utility wires, especially as poles are increasingly weighed down by fiber optics, cables and telephone lines in areas where trees have not been adequately pared back.

Ms. Boucher expressed interest in researching and developing fuel-cell and solar technologies, while conceding Connecticut may not offer great potential for wind power.

Transportation

Ms. Boucher said her Sierra Club and Connecticut Fund for the Environment endorsements in this race have come because of her long advocacy of mass transit.

She said the next phase in the state’s regional rail program is to develop a comprehensive electricity plan to help further align branch lines with the main system, which would improve capacity and expediency. She said she also wants to see a 10- to 20-year financing structure for rail projects.

“We need to have rail fees for rail needs,” she said, referencing the common practice of siphoning off special transportation funds for miscellaneous needs.

Ms. Curry agreed with the sentiment of updating the rail system, such as increasing the number of rail cars, and said she believes it has become an “antiquated system.”

Her main transportation focus is on interstate congestion and removing trucks from the main corridor of I-95.

She said they have increasingly become a major nuisance to commuters and the trucking industry, and there could be potential to move a significant number of trucks onto flatbed rail cars or barges as an alternative.

Education

Ms. Curry runs on the platform of “preserving education” and repealing legislation that advocates for test-based educational reform.

Schools in the district are among Connecticut’s finest, and “teaching for the test” undermines a long-standing practice of quality teaching here, putting classes that inspire creative learning at risk, she said.

Ms. Boucher described education as her “most important priority” and her primary reason for involvement in public service.

As a member of the General Assembly’s Education Committee and Higher Education Committee, she said, it has been unfortunate to watch Connecticut public schools lose ground to other states.

She advocates increasing educational quality requirements for those entering the teaching profession and giving instructors more time in the classroom.

Career academies may also be a worthy proposal, she said, which would help high school graduates move more easily into the workforce.

An attempt to require students be held back if they are not succeeding failed in the last session, and Ms. Boucher said that “we still need to do that.” She would also like to see more resources for gifted students.

The 26th Senatorial District includes Bethel, New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, Westport, and Wilton.

For more information on the candidates, visit curryforstatesenate.com or boucherstatesenate.com.

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