This is the third in our series of interviews with the candidates running for state representative and state senate.
Democrat Christine Cohen, a resident of Guilford, and Republican Adam Greenberg of Branford are running for the 12th District Senate seat held by Ted Kennedy Jr. since 2015. The 12th District represents Branford, Guilford, Madison, North Branford, Durham, and Killingworth.
Christine Cohen is member of the Guilford Board of Education and owner of Cohen’s Bagel Company in Madison. In an article from the CT Mirror, she said she was motivated by what she views as an assault on women’s rights, including women’s reproductive rights and pay equity. Her comments are below.
What are your top three goals and how will you achieve them?
1) Protecting Education. As a Guilford Board of Education member, I know how important a strong education system is to our towns and our families. We need to ensure that our young people have the best public education possible, so they can grow up to lead successful lives and build great careers. That means protecting state education aid for our local schools, and supporting teachers so they feel empowered as professionals in the classroom. We must also uphold the quality of our higher education institutions, ensuring they continue to excel and to provide great value for students. In addition, we need to invest more into our technical schools to prepare students for good paying jobs.
2) Making Connecticut an even better environment to start and run a business, like my own, or to launch a venture in many other industries. Our state lags the country and region in new business formations. Ultimately we cannot maintain our quality of life or retain the next generation of state residents without new businesses opening and creating jobs. This also requires a first-rate education system, to ensure companies can find the highly skilled talent they need to compete.
3) Responsibly stabilizing the state’s finances. Generations of state leaders have built up enormous unfunded liabilities through irresponsible fiscal practices. Those bills have finally come due, and we can no longer kick the can down the road. Connecticut’s residents and businesses need their government to stabilize its finances and establish more predictability its fiscal practices, balancing both short-term and long-term needs.
What are three main concerns voiced by residents when you go door-to-door?
The economy and our ability to generate jobs and grow are of utmost concern. Residents feel a tax burden that we need to recognize and grow our way out of. The conversation must be around removing barriers for business entry and growth to allow for job generation and a thriving economy once again.
Residents are also concerned with funding of programming that is vital to their needs – education, mental health and addiction services, and Medicare for our senior population top that list.
Healthcare and insurance is a huge issue that also ranks up there in door-to-door conversation. Residents are being priced out of health insurance and deciding to go without preventive services that could be life-saving long-term.
What steps do you recommend to help balance the budget?
Connecticut must learn to view its finances over a longer time horizon than past generations of leaders have done. Today’s massive unfunded liabilities were allowed to grow by those who prioritized short-term thinking over serious concern for the future. Both needs must be balanced. The state needs greater predictability in its budgets, so towns and school boards can realize the same. We should consider a wide variety of options and the example of other jurisdictions to find the right balance for Connecticut, but any solution must plan for both the short and the long term. We owe it to our kids.
Growing the economy needs to be our focus. We can accomplish this by crafting a comprehensive plan and abiding by the same. The plan must include strategies on bringing small business (500 and fewer employee-sized companies) into Connecticut thereby creating jobs and attracting new, Connecticut families. Additionally, we need to be having conversations around transportation and transit-oriented development. At the same time, protections must be in place for those things that make Connecticut so special - our superior education system and our beautiful environment. By having a big-picture view, we come at it from all angles and ensure long-term stability and growth.
How do you think funds should be raised to improved infrastructure?
In my business and budgeting experience, we don’t just simply raise prices, but rather look to grow our market share. The same applies to our state. We need to get Connecticut moving again. We do that by having discussions around bringing business back to our state. As a businesswoman, I have a solid understanding of what sorts of red-tape and bureaucracy impact business negatively. We can flip that switch and really make Connecticut an enticing state in which to begin, grow and thrive as a company.
Simultaneously, we need to have our eye on leveling out payments and creating stability for our fiscal future. The state needs to look for options to restructure and flatten out long-term growth curves on annual payments into retirement plans. We found tremendous savings through the SEBAC agreement and taking a page from that book for other obligations would be beneficial for putting dollars back into our economy. I favor a strong economic future for Connecticut through smart savings plans, business growth and development, and appropriate budget cuts that aren’t detrimental to our values.
What is your position on bringing back tolls?
Our infrastructure needs more investment and no options should be taken off the table. We have two years left in our Special Transportation Fund (STF) with severely deteriorating bridges and roadways. In addition to maintaining what we have, we need to be investing in mass transportation and in our infrastructure to get people off the roads and attract more business and people to the state. I don’t believe a $10 million unilateral decision to study tolls was well received nor do I believe it is necessary.
We had a toll study done about five years ago and while it is certainly in need of an update, we should not be spending that kind of money to reinvent the wheel. Instead, let’s spend time discussing about what is right for the good of Connecticut. We are over politicizing an issue that really boils down to good business. How do we bring revenue into our state without over-taxing our residents? We know we have 40 percent out of state drivers that use Connecticut as a pass-through and are talking about $600 million in revenue a year so, let’s go about this in a manner that protects Connecticut’s people without missing out on use fees that all of our bordering states reap the benefits of. Let’s reshape the discussion on how to best implement tolls without overtaxing our in-state drivers. Connecticut-issued EZPass discounts, tax credits, lowering the gas tax – these should all be synchronous conversations.
How does the political atmosphere in Washington affect Branford?
We are seeing some of the lengthiest budget cycles in many years, we currently have a split senate and I believe these are symptomatic of an air of hyper polarization that is initiated at the federal level. Aside from recognizing that there is partisanship the likes of which we’ve not seen in many years, federal laws can greatly impact Connecticut and its future. We should recognize that what is going on in Washington around public education, around gun safety and around women’s rights and take nothing for granted. Federal changes to law and regulation can certainly be adopted in Connecticut and affect Branford negatively. We could see a lack of funding toward our schools, which translates into higher property taxes. We could see diminished gun regulations lifting laws that have made our state safer for many years. We could see a lifting a federal court decisions that trickle down to state-level politics. We must operate according to the values of our district and in the best interest of our beautiful towns here in the 12th.
For more information, go to Cohen’s website.