Wilms advocates natural gas; Garfunkel calls for renewable energy

The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 4.
The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 4.

Because the video posted with the story was too long, it was failing to play. We have added a link to the video in the second paragraph.

NORWALK, Conn. – The two familiar Norwalk politicians who want the same job seem to agree on a number of things but there are two places where they diverge – tolls on the highway and energy.

While Democrat Andy Garfunkel said at the recent New Canaan candidates forum that he is in favor of renewable energy and maybe getting a solar or wind farm on Manresa Island, Republican Fred Wilms said he thinks natural gas is the way to go.

Garfunkel said one way to increase state revenue would be to make out-of-state vehicles pay to use the Interstates. Wilms said he has always been against tolls.

On other questions, both men talked about getting truck traffic off the highways by use of Bridgeport and New Haven as ports and said fixing the South Norwalk railroad bridge should be a priority for state spending.

Both would like the honor of representing the 142nd District in the state House of Representatives and taking the seat occupied by state retiring Republican Rep. Larry Cafero for 22 years, in the most interesting race on the local ballot.

The debate was held Oct. 21 and sponsored by the New Canaan League of Women Voters and the New Canaan Advertiser. Wilms and Garfunkel were part of a roundtable discussion with state Rep. Tom O’Dea (R-125) and challenger David Bedell. The order of answers was determined by a drawing, and Garfunkel went ahead of Wilms on every question except for one.

A synopsis:

Question: Connecticut just experienced the largest tax increase in state history yet its debt to asset ratio is significantly greater than Detroit’s. What specifically should be cut from the state budget or do you favor an across the board tax cut?

Garfunkel: “It’s always a balance in investing in infrastructure and paying off debt,” Garfunkel said, adding that Fairfield County pays a disproportionate amount of the state’s taxes.

“Corporate America has demonstrated a higher productivity of gains and we need to harness that kind of thinking here in the state of Connecticut. I believe, and only because I’d be a freshman in the House, that I need to look at the budget line by line and see where we can make tax cuts,” Garfunkel said.

He said he’d favor real estate tax reform at the state level, but there are other things to look at instead of cutting taxes.

“We need to look at how we can entice people to spend money in the state of Connecticut, whether it’s through tolls on our throughways, especially out-of-state vehicles and through traffic,” Garfunkel said.

Connecticut needs to look at high-speed rail lines, freight lines and the ports in Bridgeport and New Haven, he said.

Wilms: “With taxes, you really have to control spending, that’s what it comes down to,” Wilms said.

As he often does, Wilms pointed out that he was chairman of the Norwalk Board of Estimation and Taxation for eight years under Mayor Richard Moccia, and Norwalk had a Triple A bond rating.

The city continues to have a Triple A bond rating under Mayor Harry Rilling and BET Chairman Jim Clark.

Wilms said Norwalk renegotiated union contracts to give city employees benefits that are similar to those in the private sector.  “That saved Norwalk a lot of money and we need to do the same with the state,” he said, explaining that Connecticut has more than $50 billion in unfunded benefit liabilities.

“We have a responsibility to tell you which lines we would cut,” Wilms said. “I have other lines, but right now I would say this would be the biggest area we can start on.”

Garfunkel:  “Like yourselves out there I am a taxpayer, too. I own a home. I have cars. I don’t want to see my taxes go up any more than anyone else who is in the room,” Garfunkel said.

“One key would be to eliminate waste,” he said. “We need to be talk to people on the front lines, the workers and at the agencies, to see where we can eliminate waste. I believe that we also need to have a compliance agency to oversee any of the productivity of where any of our money goes so we know that It’s being spent wisely.”

Wilms: Wilms said he wants to see the gas tax lowered and estate tax reformed.

“Connecticut is not a good place to die in,” Wilms said. “We already paid for our assets and our income and then when we die we have to pay for it a second time.”

Plus, “I don’t support tolls at all,” Wilms said. “When I was on transportation board I opposed putting tolls on our highways.”

Question: Connecticut bears a heavy burden when it comes to energy expenses. With some of the highest gas taxes and gas prices in the nation, a prohibitive cost of heating homes and high CL&P rates Connecticut is getting a raw deal. What do you propose to do about it?

Garfunkel: Connecticut needs to look at renewable energy sources. He said he doesn’t believe that people would drive more if the gas tax is lowered. There could be wind turbines and a solar farm on Manresa Island to create clean energy and pay back into the system, he said. “There are other ways to look at this instead of just looking at cutting and cutting; we need to invest in that,” he said, adding it would create construction jobs and jobs in a new industry.

Wilms: “As we get a better handle on the budget in terms of spending, I’d like to see gas taxes reduced. We need to have alternatives. We are very dependent on fuel oil, but natural gas, I think, makes a lot of sense. … I think that is the best way to get a handle on costs.”

Garfunkel: “I am totally against fracking or against even fracking waste going through our state. I did testify on that bill. .. There’s way too many unanswered questions about the process. I know there is an issue with gas lines in the city of New Canaan as well… we should be looking into that as well.”

Wilms: Natural gas is a practical alternative as its already here and it’s environmentally friendly and cheaper, Wilms said. Wind turbines upset people who care about birds. And, as for solar, “There aren’t many sunny days here. I would say that natural gas is the place we should turn.”

Question: How would you prioritize Connecticut’s infrastructure needs and how would you phase and fund any improvements?

Garfunkel: “It’s amazing that in transportation that administrations prior to the current one did not fund the infrastructure as well as it should have. The railroad line is the heartline of the area and the malfunctioning Walk Bridge can shut down the entire Northeast corridor. … We need to prioritize our funding to transportation it is a vicious circle on how that effects the economy.”

Wilms: “This is an easy one,” Wilms said, calling the Walk Bridge “Place No. 1” to start with. Plus, “I would like to see the Danbury line electrified and treated as one line like the New Canaan spur line is so basically you can hope on a train up in Wilton or Danbury and go right to Grand Central.”

The ports need to be used, he said. “I’d like to see feeder barge service resurrected and have goods shipped.”

Garfunkel: There are “about a dozen projects” under way to make I-95 better, and they will be done in the spring. He advocated for a “light rail system that connects cities and municipalities that utilizes transit oriented development” and E-Z Pass for out of state vehicles, allowing them to pay and go right through.

Wilms: Connecticut needs better representation on the Metro-North board. Connecticut pays for 65 percent of things and gets 0 percent of input, he said. “We need to really force the issue and not be a doormat anymore when it comes to the other states.”

Question: How would you address Connecticut’s achievement gap? What is your position on unification or regionalization of school systems in the state?

Wilms: “I do not support forced regionalization. I think every town and city wants to have local control and I think that is important.”

Norwalk is diverse and parents are given choices, he said. “I don’t think children should be forced to go to failing schools. The greater choices that we have, certainly in Norwalk, the parents embrace them.”

Garfunkel: “I don’t favor regionalization at all.” But Councils of Governments may work in certain areas. “… What we need to do is focus on early childhood education, universal pre-k.”

“We need to be more innovative in our teaching process. We need to make sure that the teachers are teaching to the student. We need to follow the dollars and follow the results. It’s not so much on the funding it’s how we spend those dollars and energies.”

Wilms: As BET chairman, he said, he saw where the money went. “It’s not about the dollars. … It’s about different ways of teaching. It’s about different ways of approaching things.”


9 responses to “Wilms advocates natural gas; Garfunkel calls for renewable energy”

  1. Michael McGuire

    I am an independent, always have been always will be. A careful read of this suggest the following.

    Garfunkel’s policies support dependence on foreign oil (average wind speed on Long Island Sound is 6 knots – Long Island Sound is infamous in the sailing circles as a windless hole), with highway tolls (does he really believe just out of state vehicles would be tolled), reducing taxes would be nice but Garfunkel thinks we should look else where to grow revenue but no details on how and where to grow them, transportation is important but no specifics. His most succinct thought is to eliminate waste by working with the front lines. On the other topics he appears to agree with Wilms but is much more vague about specifics.

    As an independent it is these vague, generalized statements I find frustrating. Politicians should give us what they really think. The takeaway I get with Garfunkel is he doesn’t really understand the issues in enough depth to have a real stance. He can throw out the general statements but does not have specifics on what he’ll do.

    I believe Garfunkel is a nice guy and a good local politician but we don’t need his fiscal inexperience and policy vagueness in Hartford. We have enough of that now.

    Wilms on the other hand was very clear on each topic –lower taxes through reduce spending via contract negotiations with state employee as a starting point, increased use of natural gas in addition to alternatives, a focus on transportation starting with the Walk Street bridge, more barges to move goods (means less trucks on 95) which require upgrades to the ports of Bridgeport and New Haven (more jobs, increased property values), local choice in schools, lower estate taxes, lower gas tax, better representation on Metro North and the reasons why.

    With Wilms we can measure the progress because he gives us specifics. With Garfunkel we can’t measure his progress because we don’t have specifics.

  2. Kevin Di Mauro

    Mr Wilms clearly seems more qualified, but Andy was born and raised in Norwalk. This will probably decide the outcome of the election.

  3. Piberman

    Several comments. First, time of day electronic tolls have significantly reduced peak hour traffic congestion throughout developed economies in Europe and Asia. CT remains the only east coast state with electronic tolls and the potential for traffic amelioration. Second, CT is both a high cost energy state and high energy tax state (3rd highest nationally re the Yankee Institute)). Gas holds promise as an additional energy source because it’s here. Solar and turbines are at best for the foreseeable future marginal and costly sources. Third, 3 years after an unprecedented tax hike we do have the results of an extraordinary experiment – sharply raising taxes following a major Recession. Those results will likely defer any other Governor anywhere from replicating. Without a major effort to curtail and reduce spending another major tax hike is inevitable come the next Recession. No matter the promises. CT Governors traditionally promise no new taxes. Best watch what they’ve done before.

  4. Standing Ovation

    @Michael McGuire

    Brilliantly said. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    Sadly, there are uneducated Norwalkers who believe Garfunkel is the one, just because he is a lifelong resident.

    Garfunkel is simply trying to boost his resume.

    Crossing fingers that Wilms wins.

    – A Democratic Voter

  5. Chet Bryce

    Garfunkel’s solar farm can only benefit the community by diversifying our energy portfolio and driving down costs in summer months. Wilms’ pipeline, on the other hand, would create competition with local small businesses like Norwalk’s own Hocon.

  6. Kevin Di Mauro


    Are you implying that competition is bad ?

  7. Chet Bryce

    @Kevin: What I’m implying is that we should support our local small businesses. Both candidates pledge to do so; Wilms even goes so far as to endorse the Malloy administration’s creation (Small Business Express). But only Andy Garfunkel has actually RUN a successful small business for over twenty years. Banks are NOT businesses; they are often a source of frustration for small business owners (who are the real job creators). Andy will bring a small business owner’s common sense to Hartford. Plus, as a centrist member of the majority party, he can actually get something accomplished; what can Fred really get done as a freshman member of the minority party?

  8. Kevin Di Mauro


    Supporting small local businesses is great and an important issue if you are running for the position of mayor.

    However, running for a position of a state representative requires being able to see the big picture especially when it comes to supplying sources of energy to the state’s citizens.

  9. Oyster

    Natural gas is a practical alternative as its already here and it’s environmentally friendly and cheaper, Wilms said.

    Suggesting natural gas is environmentally friendly is an extremely ignorant position. As to cheaper, the reason electric is so costly in CT is because there is a lack of natural gas infrastructure in the state. It is NOT already here. The cost of building that infrastructure is part of the bottleneck in putting the pipeline that New Canaan wants so badly. Natural gas is only comparatively cheap because the worst costs of gas extraction through fracking have been externalized by the energy companies. Trying to build this infrastructure now is the equivalent of buying high and selling low. Investment in renewables will bring energy costs down over time as economies of scale come into play and solar and wind will not “peak” over time.

    Connecticut needs better representation on the Metro-North board. Connecticut pays for 65 percent of things and gets 0 percent of input, he [Wilms] said. “We need to really force the issue and not be a doormat anymore when it comes to the other states.”

    On Metro North, it looks like Wilms read Garfunkel’s op-ed on the subject.


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