Three compete for open New Milford state rep seat

NEW MILFORD — None of the three candidates for state representative in the 67th District has held state-level office, but two have served the town for years and the third has helped get bills passed.

Voters will be asked to choose between Democratic candidate and New Milford Town Council member Mary Jane Lundgren, Republican candidate William “Billy” Buckbee, who sits on the town’s sewer commission, and Green party candidate Cynthia Day, who has helped pass bills through her organization Hemp CT.

The seat was held by Republican Cecelia Buck-Taylor for two terms. In January, Buck-Taylor announced she would not seek a third term in the state Legislature, choosing instead to concentrate on her law practice, spend more time in New Milford and with her young grandson. At the time, she said she would consider running for a seat on a local board or commission.

Buckbee said he has served the town since his youth — as a volunteer firefighter, election moderator, coach and Santa Claus — and wants to do the same at the state level.

“I’m not a politician,” Buckbee said. “I never have been. I’m your regular nextdoor neighbor.”

Lundgren said she got into politics to help advocate for social issues, being elected to Town Council in 2001, where she was part of the Democratic minority, until recently when Democrats became the majority. She was a nurse in the intensive care unit at New Milford Hospital until her retirement..

“I want to take the experience I learned here and my desire to move the needle of social justice to Hartford,” she said.

Day plans to host a monthly meeting with constituents if elected so she can better represent their views.

“Just because I live in New Milford, I’m not only voting on issues that just affect New Milford,” she said. “We have to find common ground.”

Lundgren said her biggest goal is to improve paid family leave in the state. She said she would like men and women to be able to take two months to help their families. She conceded, however, this could burden businesses with a few employees and the financial burden in such cases should be shared by the state.

Buckbee said he understands Lundgren’s sentiment, but said legally requiring it could overburden small businesses and slow economic growth.

Day said businesses should be required to offer paid family leave but said employees shouldn’t be able to access it until they have been with the company for two to five years. Until employees reach that benchmark, she said employees should be able to add their own money to the fund they can pull from, much like a 401k.

Day’s biggest concern is addressing the heroin usage and overdoses plaguing the country and especially New Milford.

She proposes legalizing marijuana with restrictions, such as not allowing people to grow it on their property or using it in public places, including parks and grocery stores. She said marijuana could be a less addictive alternative to opioids based on studies she’s read and because the state already allows it for medical issues. Regulating marijuana could add a revenue stream for the state, she added.

Day proposes educating people on the addictiveness of painkillers before they are prescribed. She said involving children in more activities would help to keep them from using drugs in the first place.

“There’s not one cure,” Day said.

Lundgren and Day said Naloxone, a drug used to reverse a drug overdose, should also be readily available in every home where someone has an opioid problem.

Lundgren, a retired nurse whoserves on the town’s Substance Abuse Council, said she would try to increase funding for a full-time counselor position in town, as well as increasing education on the problem statewide.

She said more programs and resources need to be available in emergency rooms to treat patients. One example is having volunteers available at the hospital 24/7 to speak with any looking for treatment options.

She said the state has a shortage of beds for treatment programs and the state and nonprofits should look to expand these programs.

Buckbee said he plans to work with those who know how to take opioids off the streets.

He said he has become familiar with the topic through his work on the homeless shelter coalition. He said he wants stricter penalties for those convicted of drug possession or dealing.

Buckbee said he plans to look into lowering the hospital tax so hospitals can use their money for more services, such as beds for treatment.

Whoever is elected will have to tackle the looming deficit, which is expected to top $1 billion for the next fiscal year.

Buckbee said the budget is his main priority. He said he doesn't believe in raising taxes and the state should be more fiscally responsible with the money it already has, including keeping transportation funds for transportation issues.

He said he hasn’t ruled out supporting tolls along state borders. He said it’s a better alternative to a proposed mileage tax.

“It's not the answer to tax these people more," he said.

Buckbee said the revenue from business taxes is needed to help offset property taxes. This includes attracting more industry and blue-collar jobs and better supporting mom-and-pop shops with incentives. He plans to study towns in Connecticut and the Northeast that have successfully retained and grown businesses.

He plans to better support the community farmers by possibly adding another farmers’ market and encouraging schools and businesses to buy local produce.

Day said the state should lower the taxes on big companies to entice more companies and families to settle in Connecticut.

She said having a toll on the interstates is an option to help add revenue, but it wouldn’t make sense to implement now because it would be too expensive to install toll booths. She said the toll could also be a burden on drivers who travel the road daily.

Instead, she said municipalities should assume the costs of more services, including the police departments.

Lundgren said she opposes cutting any service to make up the gap. Instead, she said, more funding is needed for Medicaid. She said the state should look to new business to generate more revenue and said she supports introducing tolls on the interstates to help cover transportation costs.

“I think we need another revenue source,” Lundgren said. She added surrounding states have tolls and she hasn’t felt the burden of tolls while driving those interstates.

She said the state should offer more incentives for small businesses instead of large corporations to help increase the number of companies in the state. She said a well-trained workforce will help attract the larger businesses and offset any lost benefit by reducing large tax breaks.

She added the state should increase technical education. She said putting a vocational program in the former John Pettibone School would reduce travel time for residents hoping to become certified in these professions. She said the Ag-STEM program being launched in Region 12’s Shepaug Valley School will help as well.