newstimes: Candidates face off in the 64th District

First appeared in the newstimes on 10/20/2018 here.

By Katrina Koerting

KENT — Drawing and keeping people in the state’s northwest corner, closing the deficit and tolls are all issues the candidates hope to tackle if elected to the state House 64th district.

Rep. Brian Ohler, 34, a Republican from Canaan, just finished his first term and is facing off against Democrat Maria Horn, 54, of Salisbury.

The 64th district includes Kent, Canaan, Cornwall, Goshen, Norfolk, North Canaan, Salisbury, Sharon and Torrington.

Both see creating jobs that offer higher wages as the biggest issue, especially as a way to draw or keep people in the northwest corner, though they differ slightly on how to tackle it.

Ohler said he wants the state to offer incentives to small businesses who hire Connecticut residents and new graduates from the state’s high schools and community colleges. He said if the manufacturing companies go into these schools and let students know their options and about job training, they’ll stay. He said there also needs to be more of an emphasis on vocational training at schools across the board in the state because those jobs pay well.

Streamlining regulations for planning and zoning boards and regulations at the state level to make it easier for businesses to come will also help create these mid-salary range jobs, he said.

Horn said the state needs to make funding education a priority from the K-12 level up through the state colleges so that colleges can be accessible and affordable. She said it’s also important to make sure there’s job training at the community colleges and offer apprenticeships to connect students to the community.

She also said small business owners have a lot of expenses and the state should help offset those, including health care, so they can increase their employees wages. One option is allowing families to buy back into HUSKY B, she said.

Both candidates come to the race with finance board experience.

Horn has spent years leading nonprofits, which she said relies on partnerships with the government either with policies or funding. After seeing the state’s budget crisis, she began to doubt that partnership and decided to run. She joined the Salisbury finance board and is now looking to apply some of those same practices at the state level.

Ohler joined the North Canaan finance board after returning from 12 years in the military and discovering others in his generation were leaving “by the busload” for more affordable locations. During his time on the board he discovered the problems were at the state level and decided to run for state representative.

Both Ohler and Horn said the state can’t close the projected deficit without growth, though they disagree on whether tolls should be used to increase revenue.

Ohler said it’s obvious tolls would bring revenue into the state but it would come at the cost of losing federal infrastructure funding and so only translate to a gain of about $200,000. He said that money is also restricted to the roads the tolls are on and so the northwest corner wouldn’t see the benefits, yet will probably pay the tolls. He said if the plan only targets trucks, then shipping costs will increase for customers.

Horn opposed a $10 million study, but supports tolls as a set revenue source for much needed road repairs.

“Our physical infrastructure is dragging our economy down,” she said.

MediaMeghan FlanaganMedia