Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Ned Lamont and Bob Stefanowski (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

NEW LONDON, CT — First-time candidate Republican Bob Stefanowski maintained his discipline during the first of five gubernatorial debates Wednesday and didn’t stray from his talking points.

“You’re going to see it all night ladies and gentlemen Mr. Lamont is going to try and distance himself from Dan Malloy,” Stefanowski said in his opening statement.

It was a theme he would return to often Wednesday as he tried to tie Ned Lamont to Malloy — the most unpopular governor in the country.

Lamont, the Democratic nominee, said he took on Malloy in the 2010 primary because he knew the state needed to make big structural changes in order to weather the Great Recession.

“Bob wasn’t even there to vote against him,” said Lamont, referring to the 16 years Stefanowski didn’t vote.

It’s unclear if Stefanowski’s insistence that Lamont would be “Malloy 2.0” will work.

A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that voters’ opinion of Malloy won’t influence their vote in the governor’s race. Sixty-three percent said it didn’t make them any more likely to vote for Lamont or Stefanowski.

Stefanowski, a business executive who has worked at General Electric and UBS, said that if he’s elected governor he would “call a state of fiscal emergency my first week in office.”

“I will cut the budget. I will cut spending,” Stefanowski said.

But he didn’t say where.

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Ned Lamont walks to the Garde Arts Center (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

Stefanowski insisted after the debate that his proposal to eliminate the personal income tax over eight years will be tied to a set of undefined revenue triggers.

“We’re going to focus on costs,” Stefanowski said. “We’re going to cut over $1 billion out of the discretionary part of the budget.”

Does anyone think I can’t find 5 percent of waste, fraud and abuse in this government? Stefanowski asked the audience at one point.

After the debate, Stefanowski said he was unable to say what line items in the budget he would cut.

“We’re going to do zero-based budgeting,” Stefanowski said.

He said what people fail to understand is that, over time, a lower tax rate is going to keep people in Connecticut and increase the tax base.

Unlike Congress, Connecticut has a balanced budget amendment and must balance its budget every year. Lamont pressed Stefanowski on where he planned to make the spending cuts.

“He offered zero ideas for how he’s going to pay for his fantasyland, la la land tax plan,” Lamont said. “A debate is a tough place to hold people accountable for the comments that they make. I did my best.”

Stefanowski said Lamont would simply continue the policies of Malloy, who is responsible for the two largest tax hikes in state history. Lamont said he would maintain the personal income tax at its current level and would increase the property tax credit through targeted improvements in sales collections and cuts to the Correction Department.

Stefanowski criticized Lamont’s property tax credit proposal and said it amounted to about $100 per year.

“We’re going to spend more time talking about it than it’s worth,” Stefanowski said.

As far as the state’s agreement with organized labor, the General Assembly and Malloy inked a deal for health and pension benefits until 2027. The agreement they passed with only Democratic support implemented a no-layoff clause until 2021 and at the same time reduced benefits for new employees.

“We need to give the state employees security that at least something will be there,” Stefanowski said.

He said it’s unrealistic for state employees to believe the state is going keep its promises and fund the unfunded liabilities.

Lamont said Stefanowski isn’t getting anyone to the table with that type of one-sided deal.

Lamont said politicians on both sides of the aisle failed to fund the pensions for decades. He said someone who has the respect of labor is the only one who will be able to negotiate. He suggested putting the lottery into the teachers pension fund and selling some of the 4,000 buildings the state of Connecticut owns.

Lamont said he would also look to take mileage out of legislators’ pension calculations and ban the process of double-dipping where an employee retires and is collecting a pension when they are rehired for a short period of time.

“There you go, a bunch of superficial ideas,” Stefanowski said. “We have a $100 billion problem.”

Crumbling Foundations

Both Lamont and Stefanowski visited the home of Tim Heim, one of the homeowners impacted by excess pyrrhotite in their concrete basement. The mineral is reacting with water and causing foundations to crumble, in turn causing potentially thousands of homeowners to lose value in their homes.

Stefanowski said the state needs to assess the problem and help homeowners. He said the insurance companies also need to step up to the plate, and “if you had a better relationship with Washington than some of my counterparts have, we may actually be able to get federal funding.”

He said it falls under the parameters of FEMA. Two FEMA administrators have rejected Connecticut’s claim for emergency help.

“There’s no question you have a very close relationship with Donald Trump,” Lamont said.

Lamont said Stefanowski essentially told the crumbling foundation folks to “drop dead.”

Lamont said Stefanowski wants to “eliminate the minimum wage,” too. Sort of a “you’re on your own baby” attitude, he said.

“And that is not what Connecticut is,” Lamont said. “That’s not what Connecticut values are. That won’t be the Connecticut when I’m your governor.”

Stefanowski said the homeowners he visited don’t want to set up another commission and hear a “bunch of rhetoric around it.” He said that’s the difference between “a politician and a business person who can come in and size up the situation.”

Lamont, who founded a cable company, responded: “I’m tired of this businessman verses a politician. I’m the only one who’s created a job.”

Outside Garde debate where Ned Lamont and Bob Stefanowski supporters are performing

Posted by on Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The debate sponsored by The Day of New London and WTNH was the first meeting of two major party gubernatorial candidates. It was held at the Garde Arts Center and included a lot of theater. Lamont brought his own bag pipers, who led the candidate across the street to a makeshift stage built by the carpenters.

“We got a big night tonight. We’re going to be standing up for the middle class. We’re going to be standing up for working families and we’re going to be standing up for jobs,” Lamont said.

He pointed across the street at Stefanowski supporters and said he would even be standing up for their jobs.

Stefanowski also had his supporters on the other side of the street chanting “We want Bob.”

They also said Lamont would raise taxes.

Oz Griebel, Rod Hanscomb, and Mark Stewart Greenstein are also on the ballot, but were not allowed to participate in the debate because they didn’t meet the sponsors’ criteria.

Bob Stefanowski post-Garde Arts Center debate.

Posted by on Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Ned Lamont post-Garde Arts Center debate.

Posted by on Wednesday, September 12, 2018