Christine Stuart photo
R. Nelson “Oz” Griebel (Christine Stuart photo)

MANCHESTER—What can one Democrat, one Republican, and one independent gubernatorial candidate agree upon when it comes to the state of the state?

“Aw heck, the state’s a mess,” Democrat Dannel Malloy exclaimed in his opening statement.

Republican R. Nelson “Oz” Griebel said the state has seen an erosion of opportunity over the past few years, and Chester First Selectman Tom Marsh, an Independent candidate, said state government is dysfunctional and distracted because it lacks leadership.

The three candidates may agree on the depth and breadth of the problem, but didn’t necessarily agree on a solution or what role the nonprofit community may play in the state’s recovery effort.

The three candidates were speaking Monday at a well-attended forum sponsored by eight nonprofit organizations at Manchester Community College. The questions asked by WNPR’s John Dankosky centered on issues related to poverty, education, and jobs.

Asked what is the most effective means of reducing poverty, each answered the question differently.

Griebel said confidence in the private sector to preserve and create jobs is the best way to reduce poverty in the state. Malloy said he believes a state Earned Income Tax could help reduce regressive taxation and restructuring the state’s tax structure will lead to job growth and help end poverty. Marsh focused on leadership.

Christine Stuart photo
First Selectman Tom Marsh (Christine Stuart photo)

“We are where we are because the people in office have refused to act responsibly,” Marsh said.

Asked how they would close the state’s achievement gap between white and minority students, Marsh suggested the expansion of charter schools and the need to relieve the property tax burden. He said the state has to separate education values in response to taxation levels.

“We need to link the business community to educational opportunity,” Griebel said.

As Stamford’s mayor, Malloy said he instituted universal pre-kindergarten for all 4-year-olds to level the playing field.

And how would they ensure graduation rates?

“I’m not sure I have an answer to that,” Griebel said.

Malloy said that making sure education is offered isn’t good enough. He said the state needs to make sure children receive an education. Marsh said that simply raising expectations for students will increase graduation rates, using his daughter as an example.

Christine Stuart photo
Former Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy (Christine Stuart photo)

As far as the nonprofit community is concerned, Malloy said, they need to have a seat at the table.

The state’s nonprofit community, which contracts with the state to provide services to the developmentally disabled and other constituencies, has not received a cost of living funding increase from the state for more than three years. Malloy said it is not fair to give state workers, who provide similar services, a 6 percent increase while the nonprofits receive less.

Griebel welcomed the opportunity to meet with the nonprofit agency officials to see what services each provides and if more services can be farmed out to nonprofits. This would probably require opening the state employees union contract, which doesn’t expire until 2017.

Marsh said that if nonprofits can do the same services for less, then the fact the state has been unable to do it points again to dysfunctional leadership. He opined throughout the forum Monday that if the state gave more money to municipalities, cities and towns could take care of things much more efficiently, effectively, and at a lower cost than the state.

Republicans Tom Foley, Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, and Larry DeNardis declined to attend the forum, while Democrats Ned Lamont had an unspecified conflict and Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi canceled at the last minute. C. Duffy Acevedo, another Republican, also had agreed to attend but did not show for the forum. Democrat Juan Figueroa, who had agreed to attend, bowed out of the race on Friday.

Ron Cretaro, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Nonprofits, said he thought Monday’s forum was a “good airing of a lot of issues that are important to us.”

Since many nonprofits hold state contracts, they can’t endorse or donate money to candidates, but they can conduct public forums.