With the retirement announcement by House Minority Leader Larry Cafero, I launched my candidacy for the 142nd State Legislature, which includes Norwalk and New Canaan. Larry has been a giant in Hartford and achieved incredible acts of public service. It will be difficult for anyone to fill his shoes.
Serving in the Norwalk community, I have seen firsthand the problems that can only be fixed at the state level. These problems include a declining Connecticut economy, high property taxes, high state taxes, insufficient funding for our schools, and no job growth.
My very first bill will be to bring more ECS funding to Norwalk. As past chairman of the Board of Estimate & Taxation, my biggest frustration with the city budget was the ECS funding shortfall; treating Norwalk like we are Greenwich, the state shortchanges us by over $40 million per year. This increases Norwalk property taxes plus results in our schools getting less. I will support initiatives that hold promise of more ECS funding, such as the Connecticut Coalition for Justice lawsuit against the state. On a day to day basis, I will work to build coalitions with lawmakers to bring additional funds to Norwalk. If we do not speak up for ourselves, who else will?
Supporting new job creation will be a priority. Connecticut was the only U.S. state whose economy actually shrank in 2012. Small businesses account for about half of our private sector jobs, yet the deck is stacked against them. I support many of the reforms advocated by the Connecticut Business & Industry Association (CBIA): accelerating the phase out of the corporate tax surcharge and reducing the unemployment compensation tax burden. Furthermore we need to scrap the business entity tax, speed up permitting, reduce reporting requirements and ease regulations. Even our Blue State neighbors New York State and Massachusetts recently reduced the tax burden on their small businesses. Connecticut, already near the bottom, is falling even further behind.
I will speak up for fiscal responsibility. Our next governor may face a budget deficit greater than $1 billion. Raising taxes is not the answer. Gov. Malloy did that and we still face deficits. Budgetary gimmicks are not the answer either. The only answer is to control spending.
One place to start is state employee retiree benefits. Over the past 20 years, state retiree health benefit (OPEB) costs ballooned 981 percent while pension costs grew 583 percent. Hartford could learn from the experience of Norwalk. Norwalk’s new union contracts require new hires to shift to defined contribution (401K style) pension plans, high deductible HSA medical accounts plus new OPEB plans. Current employees contribute more to their existing plans. If the state does what Norwalk has done, it can see significant future savings while still offering state employees fair compensation packages.
Another focus needs to be rebalancing long-term health care costs. Medicaid spending rose 180 percent over the past 20 years. I support the CBIA suggestions of providing home-based care when appropriate, expanding the use of non-profit agencies for services and increasing the fight against fraud.
As important as the issues are, nothing beats serving you – the voters. As your state legislator, if you contact me with a problem or question, I will get back to you right away. I will help you however I can. I will be a visible presence in Norwalk and actively engaged in the community.
In conclusion, I am aware any single legislator can accomplish only so much. However I promise this — I will bring my energy, my experience and my professionalism to serve you to the best of my ability.
Fred Wilms is a senior vice president at Webster Bank and a Republican candidate for the state House of Representatives, District 142.