The two Democratic candidates for governor in Connecticut tiptoed around the idea of getting unions to make concessions to help resolve the state’s decades-old struggle to meet its pension obligations.
During a debate at Sacred Heart University on Thursday afternoon, the Party-endorsed candidate, Ned Lamont, said concessions would be necessary but talked more about using time and lottery funds to solve the pension crisis.
“We stretch out the payment schedule not over the next 10 years, but the next 30 years. So we know exactly what our payments are. Two, we put the lottery assets into the teachers’ pension fund. That was money that was supposed to go to education. Instead the politicians robbed it, used it to pay other things. That would bring that fund up to 75, 80 percent funded.
Petitioning candidate and Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim said lottery funds wouldn’t fix the problem. He talked about dealing with a similar issue, struggling to close a budget gap for his city.
“We worked collectively to put the pieces together with people working together. Without layoffs, we came to an agreement. It wasn’t even across the table, it was around the table on health care, with many of the solutions coming from labor side, some from management side. Difficult but doable.”
The state has $1.27 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. A new panel set up to address the state’s pension crisis met for the first time this week.
The two candidates did agree that the next governor needs to replenish Connecticut’s transportation fund.
Ganim said he supports tolls on out-of-state drivers. Lamont focused on putting tolls on tractor-trailers driving through the state.
“They're the ones that are destroying our roads. They're the ones that create about 95 percent of the maintenance problems there. They’re the ones that Rhode Island has now got a tolling tax on just for them right now.”
Both candidates agree that $10 million is too much to spend on a study to implement tolls.
“I’ve said I was in favor of a study. I wasn’t in favor and I’m not of spending $10 million on a study. Been in and out of government for a long time, never spent $10 million on a study,” Ganim said.
The state bond commission approved that $10 million dollar request by incumbent democratic Governor Dannel Malloy this week.
While both candidates said they support plans to build a casino in Bridgeport, they still found room for disagreement.
MGM International has proposed a multi-million dollar casino in Bridgeport. Ganim said casinos could bring a lot to the state, especially jobs.
“It’s about jobs, it’s about thousands of jobs. The numbers go from 5,000 to 7,000 jobs. In addition to building our infrastructure, rebuilding our roads and our highways and new train stations in our cities and our towns. More jobs. We need jobs.”
Lamont said he’s open to the casino but sounded lukewarm on whether it would help the state much. He said he would be hesitant to offer the casino tax breaks.
“Do I think that gaming is the future of this state? No, and as Joe and I have joked before, call it a resort and it would make it a little more palatable for folks. It’s not where we’re going, but it is a start. So I would not stand in the way of that.”
Lamont emphasized he wanted an open bidding process and to include the state’s two federally recognized tribes in the negotiations. The tribes already run two casinos in Connecticut.
Toward the end of the debate, Ganim and Lamont continued to spar over 15-year-old Bridgeport resident Jayson Negron, who was shot and killed by Bridgeport police last year.
Ganim accused Lamont of politicizing Negron’s death at a gubernatorial debate in New Haven earlier this week.
“I lost respect [for Lamont] in that conversation. I couldn’t believe with the intensity that was in the room, with the family there, that he would have taken that and politicized it,” Ganim said.
Lamont told Negron’s sister at the previous debate that as governor, he would take the lead on improving police-community relations. On Thursday Lamont responded that he hadn’t been speaking politically.
“One thing you do as a governor is you reach out and let them know you’re there and you’re listening. And her pain was the pain about her brother but also a sense that nobody had listened to her.”
Earlier this year, the chief State’s Attorney’s office released a report clearing Bridgeport police of any wrongdoing. Protests have continued for more than a year over the shooting.
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