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Boucher, Sharlach Talk Spending, Transportation In Westport Debate

Republican Toni Boucher and Democrat Philip Sharlach discuss issues at a candidates debate hosted by the Westport League of Women Voters.
Republican Toni Boucher and Democrat Philip Sharlach discuss issues at a candidates debate hosted by the Westport League of Women Voters. Photo Credit: Casey Donahue

WESTPORT, Conn. – State Senate candidates Toni Boucher and Philip Sharlach discussed the need to reduce unfunded state mandates and improve transportation at a recent candidate debate in Westport.

Incumbent Republican Boucher is facing Democratic challenger Sharlach for the State Senate seat for District 26, which covers Westport, Weston, Wilton, Ridgefield, Redding, New Canaan and Bethel.

They and other candidates met in a debate Wednesday hosted by the Westport League of Women Voters, where they discussed important issues in this year’s election.

“The most important legislation I would like to see passed is the ability of the state to fund and discontinue the process of unfunded mandates. The effect on all of our towns is disastrous,” Sharlach said.

“The most important legislation is passing a state budget that is responsible. Right now we are in serious financial condition, the state is taxing too much, spending too much and borrowing too much. We have to have a budget that is responsible, that responds to the rating agencies’ dire warnings and gives a roadmap for any legislature or governor to fix its financial problems,” Boucher said.

Boucher said that the high cost of living in Connecticut is driving residents and businesses away, and said that tax increases like those seen in 2011 place unfair burdens on taxpayers. She said that the state needs to reduce its debt through measures such as renegotiating with employee unions to require employees to contribute more towards their retirement.

“I’m going to give you, right now, $175 million, which can be implemented by the Department of Labor in the next 60 seconds,” Sharlach said. He said that is the amount Connecticut spends every year because people from out of state are able to collect unemployment benefits here, a practice he would like to end.

Both candidates agreed that the state’s transportation infrastructure needs funding. Boucher pointed to her experience fighting for transportation during her time in the state senate, and said that money from the transportation fund should not have been spent on other projects.

“We have had a massive misallocation of funds away from the special transportation fund in things government has no business being in, like buying a tennis franchise. If the fund were allocated properly, we would have that ability, the money we need, without bringing in tolls, without increasing the highest gas tax in the country as it is,” she said.

Sharlach outlined a plan to create a public-private partnership to manage the state’s rail system and its financing, which he called the New York-Connecticut Transportation Authority.

“That will be something similar to the MTA, which on the open market can borrow between $9 and 10 billion at the competitive tax-free rates. That’s where the money comes from, it doesn’t come from Connecticut, it does not come from the taxpayers,” he said.

The candidates also took issue with the implementation of the Common Core in the state’s schools, and the rigorous testing requirements for students and the evaluation of teachers.

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