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Darien State Senate Candidates Debate Economy

There was plenty disagreement at Darien's candidates debate Tuesday between state Sen. Bob Duff and his challenger, Jack Chiaramonte (both of Norwalk), as well as with state Sen. Carlo Leone and his challenger, Barry Michelson (both of Stamford).

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.

David Gurliacci October 24, 2012 at 03:56 PM
This appears to be the Barron's article that Chiaramonte was referring to: http://online.barrons.com/article/SB50001424053111904881404577603301566976464.html#articleTabs_article%3D1 (If you get a popup box about subscribing and can't otherwise get it out of the way, just hit the "reload" button on your computer.) I didn't notice anything about Connecticut being the worst state to retire in. The table on which Connecticut appears last among all the states is dry as dust, but the article itself isn't dry.
David Gurliacci October 24, 2012 at 03:57 PM
Here's a quote on what it says about Connecticut (see the last sentence in particular): Connecticut's fiscal woes aren't reflected in the bond market, where its 10-year debt yields only about one-quarter point above the triple-A average, and its debt ratings still are a solid double-A from both Moody's and Standard & Poor's. [...] One muni manager says outdated investor perceptions aid Connecticut, including its former status as a top-rated state -- an idea that the whole state is one big version of Fairfield County, the wealthy region that includes tony towns like Greenwich, Darien, and Westport. Connecticut's major cities, including Bridgeport and New Haven, are depressed and a drain on the state's coffers. Once known as a low-tax alternative to neighboring New York, Connecticut now has the third highest state and local tax burden in the country at 12% of per capita income, behind New York and New Jersey, according to the Tax Foundation.
David Gurliacci October 24, 2012 at 04:05 PM
The Barron's quote refers to rankings by the Tax Foundation, which apparently ranks the states by tax burden each year. The article must have been referring to last year's rankngs. This year's rankings appear to have been issued yesterday, and when Barron's says we're "behind New York and New Jersey" it means that those two states are the only ones that rank higher. The Tax Foundation says New York taxpayers pay 12.8 percent of their income to the state; New Jersey, 12.4 percent; Connecticut, 12.3 percent. Connecticut people with jobs in New York, paying New York taxes, are figured into the Connecticut tax burden, according to the foundation. Here's a link (note that the latest figures, just released, are for 2010 taxes): http://taxfoundation.org/article/annual-state-local-tax-burden-ranking-2010-new-york-citizens-pay-most-alaska-least
David Gurliacci October 24, 2012 at 04:17 PM
This article from the Connecticut Mirror mentions the Barron's report and gives more background information. http://www.ctmirror.org/story/17313/big-state-debt-changing-outlook-connecticut-bonds-wall-street One interesting quote from this article: "Connecticut has $17.9 billion in long-term obligations to provide retiree health coverage. Connecticut didn't start saving anything until 2007 and had only $50 million set aside -- less than one-third of 1 percent of the total obligations -- in August 2011, when unions ratified a concessions deal negotiated with Malloy. "That deal requires all state employees to contribute 3 percent of their annual pay to the retiree health care savings account, and requires the state to match those contributions starting in 2017."

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