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Connecticut governor contenders clash over tolls and taxes

September 18, 2018
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Supporters of gubernatorial candidates Republican Bob Stefanowski and Democrat Ned Lamont rally in front of the Shubert Theatre in New Haven, Conn., Monday, Sept. 17 2018. (Peter Hvizdak/New Haven Register via AP)

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — The two major party candidates hoping to become Connecticut’s next governor clashed once again over tolls and taxes in their second one-on-one debate.

Republican businessman Bob Stefanowski continued his call Monday to eliminate the state’s personal income tax over the next eight years to stimulate economic growth. Democratic businessman Ned Lamont repeated his criticism that such a move was a “false promise” to voters that would decimate public education and lead to higher local property taxes.

What’s clear is that both candidates see economic issues as the key to winning the governorship this year.

“Enough is enough. The people of Connecticut are tired. Decades of big government, out-of-control spending and tax increases have decimated this state,” said Stefanowski, a political newcomer from Madison. “The time for big government is over. The time for tax cuts is here.”

But Lamont, a one-time U.S. Senate candidate from Greenwich, argued that eliminating a revenue source that generates roughly $9 billion a year would halt Connecticut’s already slow economic recovery from the recession of the late 2000s. Lamont, who pledged Monday night not to raise the income tax, said businesses want to see a reliable stream of revenue filling the state’s coffers.

Lamont likened Stefanowski’s plan to what was pursued in Kansas by former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, who had claimed eliminating taxes would be “a shot of adrenaline” to the Kansas economy.

“Five years later, let me tell you, they sent the governor out on a rail,” said Lamont, adding how the state was left with a massive deficit and deep cuts to education. Lamont said Stefanowski’s plan, which he criticized for being short on detail, would ultimately exacerbate Connecticut’s existing fiscal problems. The next governor will face a projected budget deficit of more than $2 billion upon taking office in January.

Lamont has instead called for reinstating the local property tax credit against the personal income tax and investing more money in local education.

Monday’s debate was sponsored by the Connecticut Association of Realtors. Many in the crowd appeared to like Stefanowski’s tough talk on taxes, including his call to eliminate the conveyance tax on property transactions.

The three petitioning candidates were not invited to participate in this debate.

Independent Oz Griebel, who answered the same debate questions on Facebook, criticized both candidates for being short on specifics and focusing too much on bashing one another.

Besides taxes, Stefanowski and Lamont were at odds over tolls. While Lamont contends that he only wants to impose tolls on tractor-trailers, Stefanowski predicted tolls would eventually be imposed on everyday drivers.

“Of course he’s going to be put tolls back on the roads,” said Stefanowski, who continued his claims that Lamont will be just like Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who is not seeking a third term.

Lamont stood by his call for only tractor-trailer tolls, similar to what’s happening in neighboring Rhode Island. He said “at least” he has a way to pay for the transportation upgrades that Stefanowski said Connecticut needs.

“I have a way to pay for the transportation upgrades,” he said. “Bob, you have no idea how he plans to do it.”

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