The race in the state’s 17thSenate District features a contest between a longtime incumbent and a challenger seeking his first term in Hartford.
Democrat Joe Crisco, of Woodbridge, is in his ninth term as state senator for the 17th District, which represents the towns of Ansonia, Beacon Falls, Bethany, Derby, Hamden, Naugatuck, and Woodbridge. Crisco, who used to work for United Technologies Corporation and currently does business consulting, is seeking to make it 10 terms in office.
Crisco said he’s running again because he enjoys helping people. Crisco said he still gets excited learning about the issues facing the state and residents and having a role in implementing answers to whatever issues arise.
“No one does it alone,” Crisco said. “We all work together, believe it or not, and come up with an achievement.”
To earn a 10th term, Crisco will have to defeat Republican Tony Szewczyk, 66, of Derby.
“I don’t like the direction of the state,” Szewczyk said.
Szewczyk grew up in Derby before moving to Virginia and returning to Derby 12 years ago. He said he remembers a time when Connecticut was prosperous.
“You name it, we built it,” said Szewczyk, who is a retired architect.
Over the years, Crisco has made a name for himself in Hartford and currently is part of the leadership team for the Senate Democratic Caucus. He is the chief deputy president pro tempore and also serves as the federal relations liaison for the caucus.
Szewczyk is no stranger to politics either. He served as an alderman in Derby for two terms in the mid-2000s and currently sits on the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission, Parking Authority, and is chairman of the Derby Republican Town Committee.
By the time the legislature convenes for its next session, the state could be facing a budget deficit.
Recently, state Comptroller Kevin Lembo’s office projected the state is on track to end fiscal year 2013 with a $27 million deficit. The projected deficit is less than 1 percent of the budget.
Crisco, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, said it’s important for everyone to work together in order to get the state’s financial house in order.
“We have to make some obviously wise choices in regards to expenditures and revenues,” Crisco said.
Crisco said the state will have to prioritize expenditures without hurting people.
“I’ve never seen a time where people are in such need. Ironically when you have people in such great need your revenue is not what it should be,” Crisco said.
Crisco added the state will also have to find creative ways to generate new revenue without unfairly targeting any group.
Szewczyk said his approach to the state budget would be to implement a spending and hiring freeze while honoring state employee contracts. Szewczyk said he doesn’t want to see layoffs but would favor privatizing some jobs to see if would be a cheaper alternative.
“Once our government does something you lose competition,” Szewczyk said.
Szewczyk said he will also seek to renegotiate pension agreements with state employees if possible. He added the state needs to prioritize spending without hindering programs that help people.
As Election Day nears, the state’s unemployment rate is nearly 9 percent and higher than the national average, according to recent figures.
Crisco said the jobs bill passed during the last session provides a good base for turning things around.
“We have to grow upon that and see whatever way we can help,” Crisco said.
Crisco pointed to a few other measures taken during the last session to spark job growth, including tax credits for business expansion and designated funding for brownsfield remediation.
Crisco added the state needs to work better to streamline procedures for businesses to do business in the state.
“The thing is, how do we be of greater service to the business person?” Crisco said.
Szewczyk said there are two elephants in the room when it comes to job growth — regulations and taxes.
“There are some regulations that we simply do not need,” Szewczyk said.
Szewczyk added the state also needs to decrease its tax liabilities and lower the tax rate. Connecticut’s high tax rate keeps business from coming to the state and causes others to leave, he said.
Aside from economic issues, Crisco said his top priority is always health care.
“Health care I believe is still the number one issue,” Crisco said. “How do we ensure that as many people as possible are covered with the reasonable amount of expenditure?”
The Affordable Care Act goes into effect in 2014, but Crisco said the state got ahead of the curve by allowing children to stay on their parents’ insurance until their 26 among other measures.
At the same time, Crisco, who chairs the Insurance and Real Estate Committee, said Connecticut must achieve a balance between providing health care and maintaining the state’s status as the number one insurance state.
Education is another top priority for Crisco, especially vocational schools.
“We need that craftsmanship, that trade, there’s such a demand for skilled workers that we have to do everything we can to improve our vo-tech system,” Crisco said.
In Szewczyk’s opinion, transportation and infrastructure is a vital issue facing the state.
Szewczyk said the railroad that runs through the 17th District is dilapidated. As a child growing up in Derby, he said, he would watch as freight trains rolled by every two hours with 120 cars attached.
That is no longer the case, Szewczyk said. He feels the rail line is obsolete since ridership is low and the government subsidizes it.
Szewczyk would like to see the railroad tracks taken out in favor of opening the land for economic development and replaced with a bus system. He said bus service would better serve the population and would be cheaper for the state.
When it comes to specific issues facing the 17th District, Crisco said it’s no different than the issues facing the state — jobs, health care, and education.
“Our top priorities are whatever the town’s priorities are,” Crisco said.
Jobs are definitely the most important issue facing the district, Szewczyk said. Growing up in Derby, he said, good jobs were readily available. Although the population hasn’t changed much in the district, Szewczyk said, the jobs aren’t there like they used to be.
Szewczyk said the state needs to be more attractive to businesses and young people so they’ll stay in the state once they finished their education.
If elected, Szewczyk said he will bring the philosophy that smaller government is a more efficient government with him to Hartford.
Szewczyk said he will make two promises. The first is that he will not vote for any tax increases. The second is he will work to implement term limits.
Crisco said he brings experience, knowledge, creativity, and a willingness to listen to the office.
“We’re 7/24/365 and I mean that sincerely,” Crisco said. “There isn’t anybody that calls our home, whether they’re swearing at me or asking for a favor, that doesn’t get a return call.”