By: Michael Barry
On Nov. 28, seven state lawmakers, a mix of Democrats and Republicans, gathered in the Martire Forum for “Connecticut at the Crossroads: A Conversation about the State’s Present and Future.”
The event’s panel included Rep. Laura Devlin (R), Sen. Bob Duff (D), Sen. Tony Hwang (R), Rep. Brenda Kupchick (R), Rep. Cristin McCarthy-Vahey (D), Rep. Steve Stafstrom (D), and Sen. Toni Boucher (R).
The state legislators spoke on the current state of affairs in Connecticut, including the state budget crises of recent years, the state of the economy, the state’s quality of life, and the cost of living. Discussing the recent bipartisan state budget in Hartford, the legislators said teamwork is the key to moving forward.
“As lawmakers, it is vital for us to foster a bipartisan dialogue about the best way to move our state forward. We must demonstrate a willingness to listen and learn from each other, no matter our political affiliation,” said Stafstrom at the event. “We need to focus on what unites us rather than what divides us.”
Stafstrom also stressed the importance of working together not only at the state level, but at the federal level as well.
“By putting our differences aside, we can work towards a common goal—making Connecticut an even better place to live and raise a family,” he said. “This approach not only applies to state government. Lawmakers on the federal level need to find a way to work together and set a strong example of bipartisanship rather than voting solely along party lines.”
The state of Connecticut ranked last in fiscal health in June 2016, according to a study by George Mason University, and last in job creation in 2014, 2015, and 2016.
“I think we spend too much, we tax too much, and we are non-transparent with how we govern,” said Hwang at the event. “We need to stop spending, we need to stop taxing, we need to make cuts, and we are operating with one hand tied behind our back.”
According to USA Today, the cost of living in Connecticut is higher than the national average. In Hartford, the cost of living is 21 percent higher than the national average.
“State government continues to invest in projects like senior housing, public education and our environment, because not only do these items symbolize the great quality of life that we enjoy here in Connecticut, but they are also economic engines for the region, supporting jobs, educational excellence and affordable housing,” said Duff in a statement released earlier this year.
Because of events such as this one, Sacred Heart University’s Institute for Public Policy is gaining a reputation among policymakers as a credible source for research and analysis about Connecticut government and politics. The Sacred Heart Institute plans to broaden its reach to include the general public.
“The Institute also houses within it a Polling Institute,” said Dr. Lesley DeNardis, director of the Master of Public Administration and Global Studies programs.
“And we have launched the Polling Institute to gauge public opinion that is focused solely on policy issues and how they affect residents in Connecticut,” she said. “We found that there was a decided lack of policy research and public opinion polls just focused solely on Connecticut and its difficult challenges.”
The topics discussed at the forum were not only relevant to the state conversation, but also to a national one.
“At this very moment, our political leaders in Washington are coming close to a decision on a whole range of proposals for revision of the tax code,” said Professor Joseph Alicastro, coordinator of the News and Broadcasting Masters in Communication program. “The decisions made in Washington will have an effect on all of the states and all individuals. One issue that should be of interest to students contemplating graduate school is the federal tax proposal to tax graduate assistant income.”