Legislators weigh in at Women Voters' breakfast

By Melanie Savage
Mansfield - posted Tue., Jan. 25, 2011
Rep. Tim Ackert shares his views.
Rep. Tim Ackert shares his views.

The Mansfield League of Women Voters' annual Legislative Breakfast on Jan. 22 offered legislators an opportunity to share their views regarding the 2011 legislative session. Appearing were: state Reps. Timothy Ackert (R, District 8), Gregory Haddad (D, District 54), Bryan Hurlburt (D, District 53), and Susan Johnson (D, District 49), and Senators Don Williams (D) and  Edith Prague (D). The event was moderated by Dr. Sondra Astor-Stave, Legislative Action Chair for the League.

With the state facing a deficit in the billions, a top priority was naturally the budget. Ackert felt the key would be efficiency. “We find many ways to generate revenue in the state of Connecticut,” he said, “and sometimes we forget to think about being more efficient.” He referred to Gov. Dan Malloy’s proposed budget, scheduled to be unveiled on Feb. 16, and said it was important not to “cripple the municipalities in the state of Connecticut.”

Johnson said that Windham, as an urban area, is in a unique situation when it comes to Educational Cost Sharing money. “We spend almost 30 percent of our budget on special education in Windham,” she said. “We need to pay attention to how we fund our special ed. I would like to see more equal opportunity in education for all of Connecticut’s children.”

“As a municipal leader, I think protecting municipalities is very important,” said Haddad. To help reduce costs, “It will be incumbent on us to look through our state agencies for inefficiencies,” he said, adding that Gov. Malloy has already identified an overabundance of managerial staff at the state level. “We need to decide what we want our government to do.”

Williams pointed out that, historically, the economy has bounced back within two years after a recession. “That is not the case this time,” he said. “We will be using this as an opportunity to make government more efficient, but there’s going to be some pain.”

Legislators unanimously agreed that education needed to remain a top priority, but had a variety of ideas regarding how to more efficiently spend this large piece of the state’s financial pie. Haddad referred to Mansfield’s debate regarding the town’s elementary schools, and called for government-backed incentives to reuse existing buildings.

Ackert pointed out that a large percentage of students entering the state’s community colleges require re-teaching of subjects taught at the high school level. “We’re spending a lot of money on education, and we’re not reaping the benefits of that money,” he said.

Hurlburt pointed to superintendents, curriculum directors, and other administrators currently in charge of each individual school district. “We can’t afford it any more,” he said. Regional curriculum directors make sense because the curriculum needs to be aligned state-wide, he said. “This would reduce the impact on the taxpayers, but it won’t impact the school children at all,” said Hurlburt.

Prague, who arrived late due to an earlier obligation, weighed in on a number of issues brought forth by the League. One such issue was the death penalty. Prague said that, like Williams, she had been strongly affected by the case of James Tillman, an East Hartford resident who spent more than 16 years in jail before being exonerated on the basis of new, DNA-based evidence.  “I was a supporter of the death penalty for years,” said Prague, “and then I met James Tillman. That woke me to the reality that there are people on death row who are innocent.” Prague pointed out that repeated appeals by prisoners on death row also cost the taxpayers huge sums of money.

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