Frantz, Berg­stein bat­tle over tolls, econ­omy, guns

Greenwich Time - - FRONT PAGE - By Ken Bor­suk

GREEN­WICH — Go­ing face-to-face in their only sched­uled de­bate, in­cum­bent Repub­li­can state Sen. L. Scott Frantz and Demo­cratic chal­lenger Alexan­dra Berg­stein took on is­sues rang­ing from the econ­omy to gun laws.

The League of Women Vot­ers of Green­wich hosted the de­bate be­tween the two can­di­dates for the 36th Se­nate District on Wed­nes­day night at Town Hall, be­fore a packed crowd that far ex­ceeded ca­pac­ity of the build­ing’s main meeting room.

High­way tolls be­came one dom­i­nant is­sue, and a sharp point of con­trast be­tween the two can­di­dates.

“I would sup­port in­stalling elec­tronic tolls, which bear no re­sem­blance to the tolls that we had 20 years ago,” Berg­stein said. “But the tech­nol­ogy has changed dra­mat­i­cally, and we are the only state in the re­gion that has not in­stalled tolls. Up to 40 per­cent of the traf­fic from our high-

ways is from out of state, so they use our roads for free and we pay for the dam­age they do with our tax dol­lars.”

There’s a rea­son that all the nearby states have recovered from the re­ces­sion while Con­necti­cut has not, Berg­stein said. In­stalling elec­tronic tolls and putting the pro­ceeds in a lock­box for in­fra­struc­ture im­prove­ments is the right way to go, she said.

But Frantz dis­agreed, say­ing tolls would be an­other tax on Con­necti­cut res­i­dents.

“I’m not sure how you can be a fis­cal con­ser­va­tive and es­sen­tially raise your taxes by a whole lot by putting in tolls,” he said. “You’ve got a sit­u­a­tion in Con­necti­cut where not only are you pay­ing for the con­struc­tion and main­te­nance of the road­ways, bridges, rail­ways, etc., you also pay a ton in per­sonal in­come tax. You pay a ton in gaso­line tax. You pay a gross re­ceipts tax. You pay a reg­is­tra­tion fee ev­ery time you go to re­new your ve­hi­cle.”

The state’s spe­cial trans­porta­tion fund has been raided, Frantz said, which is why Repub­li­cans have been push­ing for a lock­box. But tolls would hurt teach­ers who drive an hour to get to Green­wich or a car­pen­ter who trav­els from New Bri­tain to Stam­ford, he said.

Berg­stein said that was not the case.

“I have talked to teach­ers and car­pen­ters and fire­fight­ers who live in Green­wich and else­where in the district and they all say to me, ‘Why don’t we have tolls yet?’” she said. “They un­der­stand the big pic­ture. They un­der­stand the op­por­tu­nity cost of not hav­ing tolls is that our high­ways and rails are not get­ting bet­ter.”

Frantz said the plan that Berg­stein fa­vored for us­ing toll money for in­fra­struc­ture im­prove­ments, in­clud­ing high-speed rail from Stam­ford to New York City, was “pie in the sky think­ing” that was not fea­si­ble. He said Repub­li­cans had the bet­ter plan to use rev­enue al­ready com­ing in for trans­porta­tion im­prove­ments and can­cel­ing costly, un­needed projects, thereby cre­at­ing im­prove­ments with­out hav­ing to add tolls.

Berg­stein, an at­tor­ney and first-time po­lit­i­cal can­di­date, is chal­leng­ing Frantz, founder of the Green­wich-based pri­vate in­vest­ment firm Hae­bler Cap­i­tal, as he seeks his sixth term in of­fice.

Res­i­dents who came out to the con­test over­packed the 110-per­son ca­pac­ity Town Hall Meeting Room and flowed into the hall­way. At one point, the fire mar­shal stopped the de­bate and said it would not be al­lowed to con­tinue un­til the over­flow crowd left, clear­ing the aisles within the room and the hall­way.

That forced dozens of peo­ple, in­clud­ing U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, town Tax Col­lec­tor Howard Rich­man and Board of Ed­u­ca­tion Chair Peter Bern­stein, to leave. League of­fi­cials said they were sur­prised by the high turnout.

Over sev­eral ques­tions, the de­bate it­self touched on the state’s econ­omy. When asked what re­forms he would look to make in state gov­ern­ment, Frantz said he had a “laun­dry list about 18 miles long” but kept his fo­cus on fis­cal mat­ters, as he has through­out the cam­paign.

“We are in such bad shape right now af­ter 48 years of one-party rule,” he said. “It needs to come to an end, and there ab­so­lutely has to be some or­der put back into the way that we man­age our fis­cal af­fairs.”

Un­der the cur­rent 18-18 split in the State Se­nate, a cham­ber long con­trolled by Democrats, Frantz said they were able to pass two bi­par­ti­san bud­gets within the past year that in­cluded a spend­ing cap and a bonding cap. They also es­tab­lished a rainy-day fund for the state. He urged vot­ers to send him back for a new term to look at pen­sion li­a­bil­ity re­form and cut waste out of the state bud­get.

“I would keep that mo­men­tum up,” Frantz said. “It is so crit­i­cal be­cause noth­ing else mat­ters if we can’t keep our fis­cal foun­da­tion in one piece.”

Berg­stein, who has cam­paigned as a fis­cally con­ser­va­tive Demo­crat, said she has a plan to ad­dress the state’s fis­cal woes, in­clud­ing re­form­ing pen­sion li­a­bil­ity, in­vest­ing in in­fra­struc­ture to at­tract new busi­nesses and res­i­dents, and chang­ing the state’s tax sys­tem.

By elect­ing her and putting her with a Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity, Berg­stein said she would be able to ad­vo­cate for Green­wich and help drive the agenda in Hart­ford.

“Pol­i­tics as usual is just not work­ing and we need a fresh ap­proach,” she said. “There are so­lu­tions to the state’s big­gest prob­lems.”

Berg­stein said she agreed with Frantz that the state’s fis­cal sta­bil­ity is paramount and added she would also have voted for the spend­ing and bonding caps as he did.

“That is the first step to cre­at­ing fis­cal sta­bil­ity but we also need to go far­ther,” Berg­stein said. “When we get all the levers of the eco­nomic en­gine re­ally work­ing, every­thing will start to im­prove. Fis­cal sta­bil­ity is just the be­gin­ning.”

As they have sev­eral times over the last few weeks, the can­di­dates clashed over gun laws. Berg­stein, who has been en­dorsed by Moms De­mand Action and re­ceived an A rat­ing from Con­necti­cut Against Gun Vi­o­lence, has ac­cused Frantz of not be­ing strong enough on the is­sue. She also said more must be done to pro­tect and strengthen the state’s ex­ist­ing laws at a time when the NRA is sup­port­ing can­di­dates to get them re­pealed.

“This is a real and present dan­ger,” Berg­stein said. “The NRA is alive and em­bold­ened in Con­necti­cut as we see at the top of the Repub­li­can ticket (with gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date Bob Ste­fanowski and lieu­tenant gov­er­nor can­di­date Joe Markely) and well-in­ten­tioned can­di­dates who sup­port them with­out stand­ing up to their agenda.”

Frantz said he had helped save the state’s re­cent bump stock ban, which can turn semi-au­to­matic weapons into au­to­matic weapons, from be­ing de­feated. He also said was in fa­vor of ban­ning ghost guns, which are par­tially as­sem­bled guns that can be pur­chased on­line. The weapons, which do not have se­rial num­bers, are con­sid­ered un­trace­able and can be pur­chased with­out a back­ground check.

And Frantz de­fended his record in post-Sandy Hook bi­par­ti­san gun safety re­forms that he said earned him an F grade from the NRA. He said is proud of that grade af­ter com­fort­ing and help­ing fam­i­lies af­ter the 2012 mass shoot­ing.

“We put to­gether a bill that has by far and away the strong­est laws and put it into pack­age where we could get a bunch of other (Repub­li­can sen­a­tors) to jump on board,” Frantz said. “The bill has worked mag­nif­i­cently. We have not seen any kind of in­ci­dent in Con­necti­cut like that since then and hope­fully never hap­pens again in the world. I put my heart and soul into it, and I be­lieve in the bill.”

The de­bate was broad­cast live on GCTV Chan­nel 79. It will be re­broad­cast sev­eral times more be­fore Election Day.

Bob Luckey Jr. / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Repub­li­can state Sen. L. Scott Frantz shakes hands with his Demo­cratic chal­lenger, Alexan­dra Berg­stein.

Bob Luckey Jr. / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Alexan­dra Berg­stein

Bob Luckey Jr. / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

L. Scott Frantz

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