Democratic challenger Martha Marx is once again hoping to unseat Republican State Sen. Paul Formica in a rematch of their close 2018 contest to represent the 20th district, and the towns of Bozrah, East Lyme, New London, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, Salem, and Waterford.
A three-term incumbent, Paul Formica is Deputy Senate Republican Leader, Ranking Member on the Appropriations Committee and the Energy and Technology Committee. He is a past vice-chair of the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments and served as First Selectman in East Lyme from 2007 to 2015. For 35 years, Formica has owned and operated Flanders Fish Market & Restaurant.
“Clearly it’s a campaign that’s unlike any other and we’re dealing with a number of issues that are taking precedence,” said Formica in a Sept. 17 interview with CT Examiner. “One is the health pandemic — we have to make sure we safely move our state out of it. How can we do that while being mindful of the economic consequences of families throughout Connecticut and the 20th district, that’s something that’s going to be a focus.”
Martha Marx has been a resident of New London and registered nurse for 30 years. She served one term on the New London City Council, served as the first female chair of the New London Democratic Town Committee, and as president and vice president of AFT Local 5119.
“The reason I am running is I feel we need middle class-working class people up in Hartford. The middle class-working class has gotten squeezed and they continue to get squeezed even through this recession with the pandemic and especially the working class essential workers,” Marx explained in a Sept. 22 interview with CT Examiner.
Marx said that her experience as a visiting nurse, working with everyone from the rich to the homeless, has helped her to recognize common threads across the financial spectrum.
“Most people really just want the same thing: they want to be able to work, make a decent living working 40 hours a week, take care of their children, put a decent roof over their head, and maybe go on one little vacation a year,” said Marx.
Formica said he worked hard in 2017 toward a bipartisan budget, which required going through the budget line by line to close a shortfall, and which resulted in a $700 million surplus. He said that experience will be valuable going into the next session when looking at the coming deficits.
According to Formica, the state faces a significant budget deficit — $2 billion his year and potentially $3 billion or more next year and the year after — caused mostly by revenue shortfalls due to the pandemic.
Formica said that he is in favor of a complete overhaul of the tax code and of allowing sports betting at the casinos as a way to generate tax revenue. Formica said he was opposed to raising taxes on upper-income households.
“We’ve gone down that road and it’s been proven that with the mobile economy they can just move out and move to tax-friendlier states, we’ve seen it happen. We can’t do that because it drives that tax base out,” he said. “That’s why I think a comprehensive top to bottom tax conversation needs to happen, especially given the fact that revenues are down in terms of sales tax and income tax.”
Asked how she would prioritize state budget choices — in August, Gov. Ned Lamont directed agency heads to plan for deep cuts in the state budget of 10% — Marx said she would be opposed to any cuts to spending on education, children or seniors, but would otherwise need to look at the rest of the budget line by line to determine what could be cut.
Marx said she had “absolutely no problem whatsoever” raising taxes on the top one percent of earners.
“The people who make the least amount of money pay 25 to 28 percent of all of their income in taxes — if you count the gas tax, the income tax, the sales tax and the car tax. That’s a lot of money for them. And then the top 1 percent pays 9 percent in taxes. That’s called inequity,” said Marx. “That’s one of the biggest problems with our state is the income inequality and I’m not talking about the people who make $200,000 a year. I’m talking about people who make $1 million a year.”
Marx said she supports the legalization of marijuana as a source of revenue as well as sports betting if it is administered by the tribal nations.
In 2017, Formica supported a power purchase agreement to prevent Millstone Nuclear Power Plan from closing. Millstone supplies about 45 percent of the state’s electricity, 1,500 local jobs and about $1.5 billion economic impact statewide. Formica said that if the agreement hadn’t been signed, Millstone would be closing now.
After Eversource raised rates on July 1, Formica said the leadership on the Energy Committee drafted a letter asking PURA, the state’s energy regular, to suspend rate increases. That later was signed by the leaders of both parties in the General Assembly. In response, PURA suspended the rate hike and launched an investigation of the increase.
Formica said that a bill was in the works [Note: the “Take Back the Grid Act” was passed by the legislature on Oct. 1] to authorize a performance-based approach to regulating energy providers, which he said would address the high compensation of Eversource’s executives and the company’s response time after Tropical Storm Isaias.
Formica said the bill would also give Katie Dykes, commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, an opportunity to draft a report to the Energy Committee explaining the costs and benefits of the state’s energy distribution model.
Formica said he wants to use his position as co-chair of the Council of State Governments Eastern Regional Conference Energy and Environment Committee to bring the other states in the region together to agree on an energy distribution model that would benefit Connecticut residents.
Marx said that Formica did not take working class ratepayers into consideration when he signed the power purchase agreement. She said that while it was important to save the 1,500 Millstone jobs, and that Connecticut did not have enough energy from renewables to compensate if Millstone had closed, it wasn’t fair to expect Connecticut ratepayers to pay for the deal.
“It should have been negotiated a lot stronger and a lot harder. We can’t continue to let corporations threaten us with ‘We’re going to close down if you don’t do this.’ That’s not negotiating and they did not negotiate in a fair way,” she said. “Paul said it’s a small price to pay to be able to turn on your electricity, but it’s not a small price to pay when you are two people working, each making $40,000 a year and you have two or three kids and that bill just comes in an extra $150 … I think it should have been negotiated harder for the middle class.”
Marx further criticized the deal which she said put the entire burden of the rate hike on Connecticut ratepayers even when surrounding states in New England use energy from Millstone.
Formica said that given the limitations of natural gas and hydroelectric power, it was important that the state “find a way to get to the next generation of energy generation” and that saving Millstone gave the state a 10-year window to develop and implement an energy strategy that includes offshore wind, virtual net metering, grid-scale solar, and large-scale battery storage and battery backup.
“These are 10-year projects that are going to happen and we have to start now,” he said. “I know that that’s controversial and I think there’s an opportunity for everybody to come together in the energy industry over the next 10 years and really keep Connecticut at forefront of the environmental landscape when it comes to energy and also generation … which I think is all part of what we’re doing,” Formica said.
Police accountability bill
“That was a lost opportunity for General Assembly to stand together and create a bipartisan bill, because I think without the section on qualified immunity, you would have had near 90 percent of the people in the General Assembly in both the House and Senate support that bill,” said Formica, who pointed out that he would have supported that bill if qualified immunity had been left out.
Formica said that the provision on qualified immunity would result in police officers being denied insurance coverage, lower recruitment of young new officers and the retirement of veteran leaders from police forces.
“I was disappointed in that, but I felt like I had to vote no on that bill, not because I don’t support change, not because I am racist — because I am far from that — but because it would have been detrimental to police,” said Formica.
“We all know that we need to eliminate racism in this country completely and we need to eliminate police brutality and that mindset that unfortunately occurs in a small minority of policemen around our country,” he said.
Marx said that she would have voted for the police accountability bill and that she was in favor of the provision on qualified immunity. Marx said that as a nurse and as the vice president of her union, she has seen nurses with a decade of experience fired after they harmed a patient.
“I believe everybody, no matter what job you have, you need to be held accountable for what you do,” she said. “People say 99.99 percent of police officers are good guys. I’m not sure I would use that high of a number when we see how many videos are out there now of people of color that have been killed or harmed. How many more are out there that we haven’t seen and how many over the years are there?”
Local control and statewide zoning
As First Selectman of East Lyme, Formica said the town had approved the construction of affordable housing on Hope Street.
“I think the days are gone when people can just say no we don’t want that there,” Formica said. “The days have to be here when local communities can say to a developer, we may not want that there but we can manage with housing units over here as part of our plan of development.”
But Formica warned that “when you get the state involved and they start steamrolling over people, I’m not sure that that’s the answer.”
He said that he would oppose state laws, including additional laws promoting affordable housing, if they override local control of zoning regulation.
Marx said that the issue of affordable housing was “incredibly important to her,” but the state should first address income inequality, then work on zoning laws.
“Yes, I am in favor of overriding local zoning, but that’s not going to make any difference. That’s not what’s going to change. Do that, great, but nobody is still going to be able to afford to live in the very affluent towns or even the ‘kind of affluent’ towns because working as a CNA in a nursing home, you’re never going to make that much money,” Marx said.
Marx also questioned the state’s definition of affordability as simply a percentage of Area Median Income.
Formica said that there needs to be better collaboration between the legislature and the Governor’s Office if Connecticut is going to move forward economically, but that the underlying economy is on the whole “sound and good” and in much better shape than during the 2008 recession..
“I think we have to find a way to gradually open up the economy and trust that the entrepreneurs, the businesses and the people on Main Street and the customers that need and utilize those services understand the ramifications of this pandemic and will take proper precautions so that we can begin to move forward,” he said. “There are some serious difficulties that are still in front of us. Most of it will be cured by consumer confidence and by the continued support of safe practices.”
Marx said she was greatly concerned about economic recovery from the pandemic and expected to see an increase in homelessness.
“We have a moratorium on evictions, but all it means is that when they lift that, you’re going to need to find six months of rent that you haven’t paid yet,” she said. “We’re going to have to find a lot of housing for a lot of people.”
She said that she has long supported labor and unions, which Marx said distinguishes her from Formica.
“I truly believe the middle class is not going to come back and is not going to be strong unless we maintain our right to organize and we don’t take away any of our accomplishments or our rights as labor,” she said. “We need to maintain our rights and we need to be able to have the right to organize without the fear of retaliation. I do believe that is something very different between my opponent and I, and it’s something I will fight very hard for.”