Debates show contrast in state Senate contest

In a series of debates last week, incumbent Republican state Sen. L. Scott Frantz and his Democratic challenger, Daniel Dauplaise, offered differing visions of what they would bring to the 36th District as a representative, right down to what they saw as the state of the state itself.

“Connecticut, which used to be such a fabulous state, No. 1 in so many areas 40 and 50 years ago, is in real trouble,” Mr. Frantz said. “This is primarily because of fiscal issues. We have so many people leaving the state simply because the taxes are too high, whether they’re talking about estate taxes or the income tax. Connecticut has 382 different taxes it imposes on people, and we’ve lost over $31 billion in adjusted gross income between the years of 1995 and 2006. This is absolutely unacceptable because that’s our tax base going to another state.”

Mr. Frantz, throughout both debates, spoke often of the “ever-expanding state government” and the ways that Connecticut has, in his view, slipped in past years, including having the second lowest credit rating of any state and being one of the most heavily burdened by taxes in the country.

However, Mr. Dauplaise, a Stamford resident and former teacher, said to focus solely on cutting taxes was missing the bigger picture. He advocated making sure that the state had the best health care, public safety, transportation, and education as a way to keep people in Connecticut and attract new residents as well as new businesses.

“Are the taxes too high? In some respects they are and in some respects they’re not,” Mr. Dauplaise said. “We have one of the lowest sales taxes in the region. New York is at 8%. Rhode Island is 7%. We’re only six and a third. I think it’s important that we consider holistic approaches. It can’t just come down to a number on a tax form. We have to consider what kind of state we want to build, what kind of state we want to live in and all the things that contribute to that state.”

He later added, “It’s not just about taxes; sometimes it’s about good governance.”

The two squared off in two debates in two days, first at Greenwich Town Hall in a League of Women Voters event last Wednesday and then on Thursday in a backcountry meeting mutually sponsored by the Round Hill, Northwest and Northeast homeowners associations. Mr. Frantz, a two-term Republican, called himself a fiscal watchdog and pointed to his fights against new taxes and the “bad budgets” he said were being pursued by the Democratic majority in Hartford, while Mr. Dauplaise said he would be able to work with that Democratic majority for compromise “instead of just flying in, hitting the no button and flying home.”

And just because he is a Democrat in a district that has sent Republicans to Hartford since the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, Mr. Dauplaise insisted at the associations’ debate he could be the kind of representative the people need by working with the governor and the majority caucus.

“I will come to the legislature as probably the most conservative Democrat among 36 senators and probably the most conservative Democrat in the entire legislature,” Mr. Dauplaise said. “I will look realistically at the budget, and ultimately the governor’s office and the majority are going to have to work with me.”

Mr. Dauplaise even advocated a tougher line with state employee unions, citing his past work as a contract negotiator.

“It’s a very challenging thing to do,” Mr. Dauplaise said. “When times are good, it’s very easy to make contracts big. We have to make good decisions about how we’re going to pay our workers, giving them, at one time, a fair wage while being fair to the taxpayers of Connecticut. I will work hard with the Labor Committee to make sure fair and fiscally responsible contracts are signed.”

Mr. Frantz sounded a similar theme he has had during his terms in office when he said that the “fiscal house of Connecticut is an absolute mess.” He expressed concern the state’s credit rating would be downgraded again because “we can’t balance a budget to save our lives.” He stressed that with unfunded liabilities of close to $100 billion it was now a “code red situation.”

“The majority party has neglected for nearly four decades to take care of these different accounts,” Mr. Frantz said. “We’re 46% funded in the pension fund, and this is nearly mathematically impossible to catch up on. Last year I tried to introduce a bill that was going to reduce the 8.6% presumed rate of return on the pension, but Democrats had absolutely no interest whatsoever in doing that.”

Mr. Dauplaise responded to those figures by saying that “it’s a very big number, but it doesn’t represent a very real number.” He noted it was a figure the state was liable for over the next 30 years and said it was something that needed to be dealt with in a way Mr. Frantz would “never be able to advocate for.”

“Revenue is how we’re going to solve this problem,” Mr. Dauplaise said. “You can’t solve an unfunded pension mandate by cutting taxes. That’s not the arithmetic. You need to look holistically at the state budget and understand what’s happening on the baseline. How can we best generate revenue what is a large mandate? We have to work hard and we have to look at all of the options. That is what I’ll bring to the table.”

Mr. Dauplaise cited former state Sen. William Nickerson’s deciding vote in favor of the income tax in Connecticut, which he gave in exchange for reducing the capital gains rate in the state from 14% to 4%.

“He was a legislator,” Mr. Dauplaise said. “He made hard decisions and voted for something he would not have originally stood for because he could benefit his constituents. That’s a legislator. That’s someone who compromises.”

Mr. Nickerson, who was not in attendance, has already offered strong support for Mr. Frantz, who was quick to say he wondered if that was a vote anyone in the district should be pointing to.

“Does anyone feel like they benefited from the income tax?” Mr. Frantz asked, adding that he was always willing to work across the aisle and that among his colleagues he was considered someone eager to craft bipartisan legislation.

“I love working with Democrats, and if you look at my voting record, you will see that it’s 93% to 95% yes votes on the thousands of bills we’ve seen in the last four years,” Mr. Frantz said.

Mr. Frantz and Mr. Dauplaise will participate in a Greenwich Chamber of Commerce forum with all the candidates running for the state representative seats on Oct. 17 at 8:30 a.m. at Town Hall.


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