Candidates for 67th House Districtdiscuss how to help New Milford
NEW MILFORD — Improving public transportation, ensuring a state cut to the schools’ funding doesn’t happen again and closing the $2 billion deficit are some of the big issues the candidates will tackle if elected to the state House 67th District.
Republican incumbent Bill Buckbee, 46, is vying for his second term and is the executive director at Harrybrooke Park. He faces Democrat Tom O’Brien, 59, a carpenter. Both are from New Milford, which is the only town in the district.
Last year, New Milford received a $2.2 million cut in state funding, with most of it allocated for the schools. The cut prompted the town and schools to lay off people and not fill vacancies, as well as hold off on spending.
Both candidates said they would work to ensure that didn’t happen again.
Buckbee said the cut came from the governor’s office, and the way to prevent a repeat is to work with whoever is in that position, regardless of party. O’Brien said he would refuse to vote for a budget that included a cut for the town.
O’Brien said it’s important to invest in education at all levels and said the government needs to fund state colleges like they did when he was in school. He said the tuition increase coincides with the cuts in government investment and millennials have to pay hundreds of dollars each month for student loans to state universities.
New Milford residents and officials have been trying to get passenger rail back for decades. Buckbee introduced legislation in the past two sessions, but neither was successful. He acknowledged it wasn’t a quick fix, but he’s gained support and is working to help get federal funding.
He said it’s more cost-effective to upgrade the rail from Danbury to New Milford for passenger service than to electrify the Danbury line.
“I’m going to stay on board with the train fight and do that for New Milford,” Buckbee said.
O’Brien said he fully supports passenger rail, but proposed taking it a step further by improving public transportation as a whole, including improving and expanding the Housatonic Area Regional Transit system. He said public transportation needs to include multiple alternative forms, such as bike racks at train stations, to expand the options.
Both said a change in spending and attracting businesses is needed to help close the $2 billion deficit.
Neither had specific state cuts or efficiencies in mind to save money, but Buckbee said he plans to look at how state employees are doing private jobs while on paid leave from the state. O’Brien said he also likes the idea of extending the debt payment plan.
Buckbee proposed a tax incentive to companies for retaining employees, offering a certain percentage of the employee’s salary when they hit a year, with the percentage increasing if the employee was unemployed or a veteran. He said they need to listen to small business owners about how to help them.
He said reducing the income tax gradually and then ultimately eliminating it will make businesses want to locate in Connecticut and will also help residents.
O’Brien said the income tax is the only progressive tax in the state and opposed reducing it. He suggested instead not taxing senior citizens’ pensions or Social Security if their income was below a certain threshold. He said Connecticut relies too much on property taxes.
He also opposed tax incentives for large corporations and instead said it was better to help small business.
He said there are many pieces of economic development, but his niche piece is connecting the trails in western Connecticut to make an attractive recreation option, as well as offer another form of transportation. He said these opportunities improve the quality of life which is attractive for businesses.
He said they also will draw tourists to the area and expand that industry.
O’Brien has worked on bringing trails to the state since 2007. He’s collaborated with other trail organizations, secured funding and helped create the Western New England Greenway plan.
“I look forward to the opportunity to make a lot of noise on behalf of this part of the state,” he said.
Buckbee also recognized the need for trails and walkability in New Milford and said he would work to get money for it.