Ask either of Darien's incumbent state senators how well the Legislature has been addressing Connecticut's unemployment and economic problems, and they tick off a list of bills passed in the last session, often with massive bipartisan support.
Ask their two challengers the same question and they'll tell you the state still doesn't have its fiscal house in order, and one of them will display a copy of Barron's weekly newspaper, which named Connecticut both the worst state in the country to do business and the worst state in which to retire.
That was the basic pattern of the debate Tuesday between the two sets of candidates for seats in the 25th and 27th state Senate districts, each of which covers part of Darien.
The 25th district, which covers parts of Norwalk and Darien, is represented by Democrat Bob Duff. His challenger is Jack Chiaramonte, a Republican and chairman of the Norwalk Board of Education.
The 27th district, covering parts of Stamford and Darien, is represented by another Democrat, Carlo Leone of Stamford. Leone is being challenged by Barry Michelson, also of Stamford. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6.
The debate among the state Senate candidates was followed by a second debate among the four candidates for state representative seats. Two different state House Districts straddle Darien.
Although the candidates discussed other issues — with both Republicans joining Democrats in saying that they liked the idea of having campaign contributors names disclosed, for instance. But the economy, jobs and the state's spending and taxes were what the candidates spent the most time debating.
Chiaramonte and Michelson each complained that rather than improving the overall business climate in the state, the Legislature and Gov. Dannel Malloy have concentrated too much on providing massive tax incentives to companies to come to Connecticut or to stay rather than leave it..
U.S. Surgical was given $20 million in tax breaks to keep the company in Connecticut, Chiaramonte said. And Jackson Labs received $200 million, title to a building that the state arranged to have built for the company, and another $100 million if the company stays in the state for 10 years and keeps 300 people working.
That's a million dollars given out per job saved—a waste of taxpayers' money, Chiaramonte said.
"Is that fiscal sanity? What is that?" Chiaramonte said. "That's not common sense.
Michelson brought up the recent announcement that Bridgewater Associates, a Westport hedge fund, had agreed to move to Stamford after getting a massive tax break. That's the kind of deal the Legislature should prevent rather than encourage, he said.
Regarding Jackson Labs, Duff replied that the state's deal with the company would bring 842 new construction jobs and another 6,861 new, permanent jobs, including 661 "direct" jobs, another 4,000 or so "spin-off" jobs with other companies and 2,200 "indirect" jobs.
"I'm real proud of the agreement we made with Jackson Labs," Duff said. "I think that is going to be a real home run for Farmington and that area of the state [near Hartford]."
Leone pointed out that other states were wooing companies with tax incentives and the like, and Connecticut needs to compete with that.
Michelson and Chiaramonte said the state needs to keep taxes lower and do so by streamlining and cutting back on spending. Duff and Leone said the state Legislature and Gov. Dannel Malloy cut back considerably on spending.
Duff pointed out that the state expects to save considerable money after an agreement with state unions to cut back some wage increases and benefits increases, but Michelson said the cutbacks didn't go far enough.
Both Duff and Leone pointed out that a special jobs session of the state Legislature had come up with a bill a year ago that received such widespread bipartisan support that in the end only two lawmakers voted against it.
"What's the reaction [...]? The small businesses are coming, Leone said, and added that other, larger companies are coming to the state. He cited Chelsea Piers and NBC Sports in Stamford and small businesses in Darien, such as Mathnasium, which just opened in town.
"I see businesses opening every day," Chiaramonte replied, "and I also see a lot more closing."
Correction: The Duff-Chiaramonte race is in the 25th District, not the 26th District, as originally reported.