The “New” Connecticut by Dita Bhargava Candidate for the 151 st Assembly District I made the decision to run for the 151 st Assembly Seat because I believe in our state and its people. I also share many of the concerns voiced by voters in my district over escalating taxes, budget deficits, business climate rankings, the out-migration of young workers, and the growing epidemic of opioid addiction.
After knocking on over 4,000 doors and speaking candidly to the many voters who welcomed me into their homes, I want to do all I can to help deliver a new vision for our state – both economically and politically.
Let’s not forget that we have a long and proud history. We are the “Constitution State” precisely because we were the first of the original 13 colonies to have a written governing document, and it helped inspire the US Constitution. We were the Silicon Valley of the 19 th century, and our innovations in precision manufacturing and defense helped to shape the course of America’s industrial development well into the 20 th century. With such an illustrious past, I know that there are many who argue that our best days are behind us. I am not one of them. I believe in Connecticut and that with the right vision and leadership, we will see the best days ahead. We have many strengths that we can harness, with a top-three ranking in the percentage of employees with advanced degrees and a top-five ranking for science and engineering doctorates in the workforce. And, we enjoy a strategically important geographic location in the Northeast which generates over 20% of the country’s GDP.
From what I have seen, the people of our state have held up their bargain. They deserve more from their government in Hartford. We need to re-dedicate ourselves to making our state a destination for companies offering good-paying jobs, for young families looking to raise and educate their children, for recent college graduates starting their first job, and for seniors hoping to retire in the community they love.
I have a plan that will harness our strengths and put Connecticut back on a path toward fiscal responsibility, which is the fundamental building block for everything else we do. I will strengthen the alliance between our state government, corporations and universities. There should be ongoing, substantive dialogue between leaders in all three sectors to ensure that that state is planning strategically for the industries of tomorrow, and that we are giving our students the skills they need to compete in them.
I also think that the private sector has a role to play in accelerating our $100 billion, 30-year infrastructure investment program. My plan is to engage the private sector more extensively in a major buildout of our roads, bridges, freight and passenger rail systems, broadband capability and more. There 2 are innovative financing techniques we can use, along with the creation of a State Infrastructure Bank, to speed up the delivery of our “Let’s Go CT” transportation plan and make our state a more attractive destination for businesses.
We also can’t afford to keep losing our college graduates to other states. That is why I am proposing that the private and public sector join forces to fund a “Student Loan Forgiveness Program” for those young people who make a commitment to work in Connecticut for at least five years. Studies show that after five years, there is a greater sense of connection to a town or a state, so this plan could help us stem the out-migration of young adults.
Connecticut was unusually hard hit by the 2008 recession and the sequester, given our reliance for tax revenues on the financial services and defence sectors. While those industries remain important to us, we clearly need to do a better job of diversifying and expanding our tax base. That is why we need to attract businesses in other industries seeking a highly-skilled workforce, including media and telecoms, bio-sciences, advanced manufacturing, and technology. I want to see us expand the work being done in “Silicon Harbor” in Stamford around the state, since the main reason GE decamped to Boston was the technology eco-system which had been created around that city’s university system. We have the ability to create a financial technology hub in Connecticut, especially for start-ups that don’t need to be paying Manhattan rents.
We also have a great opportunity to help modernize and develop a number of our cities to attract younger workers with more moderately-priced housing. Transit-oriented development hubs are particularly appealing to millennials, since many prefer a low-maintenance lifestyle that does not rely on owning a car.
Lastly, we need to have the courage to address our public sector pension funding problem. While we would not want to unfairly penalize those nearing retirement, we need to seriously think about moving new state workers to 401ks, like the approach that the Town of Greenwich took with its municipal employees. We also need to consider more meaningful structural reforms. For example, a move away from a traditional defined benefit plan to a “target benefit” plan would allow the state and its employees to share risks that are currently being borne entirely by the state (and ultimately by taxpayers). Finally, reforms should include a more realistic sharing of healthcare costs by state employees.
Connecticut has a long and proud history that includes innovation, hard work, political reform and a commitment to education. In the 21 st century, these same values still drive us and inspire us. I believe that we are well-positioned to capitalize on the challenges and opportunities ahead of us. But, we can’t do that unless we send the right people to Hartford; those who have a positive vision and the right plans and experience. If the voters of Greenwich honor me with their trust, I vow to bring all my experience and creativity to bear on our state’s most intractable problems. We may be a small state, but we have unlimited potential. I want to do my part to make Connecticut a success story again, and I respectfully ask for your vote on November 8.
Note: The deadline for letters to the editor in support of candidates running in the Nov 8 election was Oct. 28.
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