The three candidates vying for the governor's office in November squared off in a forum hosted by NBC & Telemundo Connecticut Tuesday.
Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, Republican Bob Stefanowski, and Independent Party candidate Rob Hotaling discussed topics critical to the people of Connecticut, including taxes, abortion rights, education, and crime.
The candidates started off on the subject of the state's $6 billion budget surplus and what should be done with it. Gov. Lamont said has been able to balance the budget for the last four years.
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"Instead of talking about deficits, we're talking about surpluses," Lamont said. "We talked about our fixed costs for an awful long time. A lot of that is unfunded pensions that nobody paid into on both sides of the aisle for 40 years. We're going to continue to pay down those unfunded pension liabilities."
Stefanowski said some of it should go back to the people of Connecticut.
"I'd give half of it back," Stefanowski said. "That $6 billion is money that Governor Lamont has taken from taxpayers that he doesn't need right now."
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Stefanowski said part of the reason for the budget surplus is the influx of money from the federal government over the past couple of years.
"What we're seeing is basically a shell game of our federal tax dollars being shifted to the state. It's unconscionable that we're sitting on $6 billion when people are out there right now only filling half of their oil tank," Stefanowski said.
Hotaling said investing in certain new technologies could help lower costs for people, including energy costs. He had other ideas for the budget surplus as well.
"I agree to a certain extent that we should pay down pension debts but we should use some of those funds to close the achievement gap and make strategic investments in our infrastructure," Hotaling said.
One of the sharpest exchanges between Gov. Lamont and Stefanowski was over abortion rights. Stefanowski said Roe v. Wade is codified in Connecticut law and that won't change.
"I'm going to protect a woman's right to choose," Stefanowski said. "The law is not going to change as long as I am governor. Period. End of story."
Stefanowski said Lamont has been lying about his stance on abortion rights.
"Governor, you really should stop doing it," Stefanowski said.
Lamont pointed out that Stefanowski contributed to the campaign of GOP senate candidate Leora Levy, who favors restricting abortion access.
"I think you're scaring the women of Connecticut," Gov. Lamont responded. "Actions speak louder than words, Bob."
Stefanowski said just because he donates money to a candidate doesn't mean he agrees with all of that candidate's positions. He pointed out Lamont's donation to former Montana governor Steve Bullock, a Second Amendment champion.
The candidates fielded a question from a viewer about bringing tolls to state roads to help pay for infrastructure and transportation improvements, an idea Lamont pushed for during his first term.
"I came up with a couple of solutions so we could start being able to pay for our roads and bridges and speed up our rail," Lamont said. I had a big table. I asked the legislators to come in. 'Do you have a better idea?' They had no other ideas."
Hotaling said he was in favor of some tolls.
"We really need to take a look at what’s not popular, which would be entry-exit toll points. Yes, it's not very popular, but guess what? It would get the job done," Hotaling said. "Right now our neighbors, New York and Massachusetts just drive through Connecticut and it's 40-percemt of our traffic on a free ride. Meanwhile, they have entry-exit toll points."
Stefanowski, who has been opposed to tolls, blamed Lamont for wanting to require residents to pay another tax.
"The State of Connecticut have enough taxes on it already. A toll is a tax," Stefanowski said. "We're already the second-highest taxed in the nation. If Governor Lamont gets reelected, we'll be Number 1 for sure."
ENDING ON A POSITIVE NOTE
In the final two minutes of the forum, the candidates were asked a series of light-hearted questions and had fun with them.
When asked to pick between Sally's, Pepe's, or Modern Apizza, Hotaling went outside of New Haven to choose Colony Pizza in Stamford as his favorite.
Gov. Lamont said he was happy to have a number of new local breweries in the state but said he wasn't a beer drinker, so couldn't choose one above another.
Mabye facing the toughest of the questions, Stefanowski was asked if he was a Yankees or Red Sox fan. With an apology to Red Sox fans, he went with the Yankees.