By David Kreschevsky, Republican American
WATERBURY - Four candidates; three Republican and one Democrat.
Four men with business backgrounds. Three relative newcomers to electoral politics, and one incumbent.
Two wearing dark suits and power ties; one sporting a windowpane- striped shirt with French cuffs and striped tie, pinstriped pants and no coat, and one wearing khaki slacks and an open collar beneath a wrinkled sport coat.
For more than 4 ½ hours Thursday morning, four of the five candidates competing in gubernatorial primaries on Aug. 10 made their cases to business executives from the region at a forum held in the offices of the Manufacturing Alliance of Connecticut Inc. on Interstate Lane. Thursday was the second of two forums; endorsed Democrat Dan Malloy visited on Tuesday. Independent Party candidate Tom Marsh was not invited because he is not facing a primary, alliance officials said. Thursday's event featured, in order: Republicans R. Nelson "Oz" Griebel, Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele and GOP-endorsed candidate Tom Foley, and Democratic challenger Ned Lamont.
The forums Tuesday and Thursday each drew more than 30 people, and featured lively questioning as representatives of area manufacturers and related businesses probed each candidate's comments for specifics.
Thursday's speakers joined Malloy in condemning the gimmicks, one-time revenue and borrowing used by the legislature in attempting to balance the state budget - including Fedele, who said he had urged Gov. M. Jodi Rell to veto the budget two years ago before she ultimately decided to let it become law without her signature.
(Rell this year signed the $19 billion budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.) Fedele said Rell two years ago refused to veto the budget - which contained "false revenue projections and not enough cuts," he said - for two reasons: first, because Democrats would "have their fingerprints on it," and second, because Connecticut was one of only two states at the time without a budget.
"Pennsylvania was the other," he said. "She didn't want to be the last."
All four candidates, each drawing on his business experience, said the state needs a strong governor willing to both stand up to and work with the legislature and state employee unions, and who can force dramatic cuts and consolidate agencies, in order to achieve savings. The Republicans all said they could balance the budget through cuts and efficiencies, without imposing new taxes. Lamont also talked about consolidations and cuts, but was not willing to commit to no tax increases.
He did say the state "needs new taxpayers, not new taxes," and added that no governor "has earned the right to raise anybody's taxes."
Meanwhile, none of the candidates Thursday supported Malloy's proposal to require the legislature to adhere to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, or GAAP, which the state requires of all municipal governments and boards of education.
Foley pledged to work to eliminate unfunded mandates on municipalities, and to end binding arbitration of state and municipal employee contracts.
"I'd repeal it," he said. "Leave the towns to decide how they want to manage their own business, how they want to raise revenues and how they want to spend their money." He quickly added, though, that he can't "promise you I'll be successful."
All four offered varying proposals to retain employers and jobs, as well as to recruit new employers to the state, and all said they would work to make Connecticut more business friendly. Given their business backgrounds - Fedele and Lamont started and ran their own businesses, Griebel is a former chief executive of BankBoston Connecticut and later was CEO of the economic development agency Metro Hartford Alliance, while Foley ran a venture capital firm - that was not a surprise.
"I was encouraged that all five candidates have some level of private-sector management experience and seem to get it, that they understand the problems that the private sector faces and seem willing to deal with them," said Jack Traver Jr., president of Traver IDC in Waterbury, an electrical supply and service company.
"In some ways, I was surprised at the message all five candidates gave was as similar as it was, but it was a message that the manufacturing community can take some stead in," Traver said. "We will end up with a governor that, a) knows how to manage, and b) recognizes that the real jobs, the good jobs, are created in the private sector and the private sector badly needs help in order to move forward."
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