Republican John Rasimas is challenging incumbent Democrat John-Michael Parker to represent the 101st district — Madison and Durham — in the state House of Representatives.
Rasimas, a CPA, worked in the state’s auditor’s office for over 30 years, and was Deputy State Auditor for the past six years. He has also taught in the accounting department at Central Connecticut State University for 20 years. He retired from the state auditor’s office on March 31 and announced his candidacy for State House of Representatives the next day.
Rasimas talked with CT Examiner about wanting to increase consequences for juvenile offenders, his favoring of local control in areas like education and zoning, the need to make changes to the Police Accountability Law and give more support to law enforcement. He also said he wanted to address the proliferation of fentanyl in the state.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
CTEx: What are your top priorities if elected to the state legislature?
RASIMAS: I have five top issues and number one, first and foremost, is the state budget. I actually ran the state auditor’s office — I worked there for 38 years and I ran it for the last six years. So I kind of had a first-hand view of the state budget and know certain things about the budget that I think are pretty shocking.
I believe we have to do all in our power to cut state spending because we’re about $68 billion in debt. You turn on the TV and it sounds like we’re in surplus, but that’s basically cash basis.
Number two is state aid to towns like Madison and Durham. We used to get $2 million a year in educational aid. We now get $400,000. So we get 20 percent of what we used to get, and we get very little in state reimbursement for school construction projects. In fact, we have one that we just approved in February, and we’re only going to receive 18 percent for that school and area towns are getting much more.
Number three is juvenile justice and that’s probably the most significant issue of importance to my wife and myself. We were involved in a bad accident a few years ago and it was a juvenile offender. It was a hit and run accident. Through the juvenile justice system, there’s really no consequences. We don’t believe we should throw juvenile offenders in jail and throw away the key, but we believe there should be some consequences and they really haven’t done much to do any of that.
Number four is local control. The state wants to get into our education curriculum. They want to get into zoning and they even went as far as wanting to tell us how we should be running our surf club beach parking lot.
And number five is the fentanyl issue. After I announced my run, someone that is involved in a nonprofit concerning the fentanyl issue contacted me and I became very educated on the subject and quite honestly, pretty shocked about how much fentanyl has affected society. I want to do something to try to address that problem.
CTEx: What are your key goals and priorities for improving educational outcomes for Connecticut students?
RASIMAS: I really truly do believe in local control. I know there are different thoughts out there on towns that want to vary their curriculum but they have to stay within state guidelines. I just think that local control gives parents the opportunity to work with their local boards of education.
I do understand the value of public education. I’m totally supportive of it. I think we do have to take a look at the cost of it. I’m all for putting more money into the classrooms. I’m not all about putting it into administrative costs. We have to do more to make sure that the dollars get right to the students rather than to the administrations and the bureaucracy.
I really think that education does belong at the local level. People move to certain towns when they’re making that decision, in many instances, especially young families, they’re looking at what the education system has to offer in each town.
I’m against state overrun, state control over curriculum. I’m all for local control on it.
CTEx: How can the state provide affordability for Connecticut residents? And is there a state level response on inflation that the state should be taking right now?
RASIMAS: It doesn’t surprise me that we’re in a high period of inflation and I don’t see that really coming down anytime soon. But as far as affordability, I think the state’s role is that we have to cut state spending, and I propose that we use zero-based budgeting. We already audit state agencies, but, believe it or not, half of the recommendations that are made are not being implemented — that puts it on the administration to make sure that those changes are made.
We have to look at what programs are not working and if they’re not working, we shouldn’t be funding them. And zero-based budgeting basically is a prioritization each budget period, where you start at zero and you say, “This is what we want to fund. These are our priorities.” And then it’s up to the administration to make the necessary budget adjustments to bring the budget in balance.
The federal government can print more money, the state cannot — we have to balance our budget. And what’s happened over the last three or four decades — and I can’t blame just Democrats. It was Republicans and Democrats that didn’t fund the state employee pension plans, teachers’ retirement, other pension plans. Post-employment healthcare, they didn’t fund at all. And, I’ll say, the overuse of state bonding.
We’re $68 billion in debt. That’s pretty shocking. They’re just putting their heads in the sand up in Hartford and you could go a different course. If we cut state spending, if we can cut taxes permanently — the tax cuts right now are pretty temporary and they’re pretty minuscule — we have to do some wholesale changes and bring the budget into what we truly can afford. The net result of that will be a reduction in taxes. Until we do that, we can’t be competitive with other states as far as affordability.
We’ve lost our best friends to Delaware because they’re paying one-fifth the property tax. They’re paying no income tax on their pensions. They’re not paying sales tax. They’re paying lower utility costs. We’ve lost other friends to Florida, the Carolinas. So until Connecticut is competitive I don’t believe it’s going to be an affordable state to live in.
[The $600 million tax cut package passed last session] — part of it is temporary. The 25 cent gallon tax will be reversed on December 1st, right after the election. $600 million compared to the 6 billion in tax increases that have happened over the last administration is 10 percent. While tax cuts are a good thing, this package fell far short.
CTEx: What do you think should be the state’s role in providing housing to Connecticut residents?
RASIMAS: I’m sure you’re aware of section 8-30g. This gets back to state control where it should be local. It basically allows developers to bypass local zoning, and zoning should definitely be a local issue. There are other programs out there that work. The goals or the standards that are set in that statute — 10 percent of housing has to be affordable — are not reachable.
I can’t imagine towns like Durham and Madison meeting those thresholds. I believe in down payment assistance, I believe in the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority (CHFA), I believe in programs that allow hard-working folks that are looking to purchase their first home. They have income restrictions, they have price restrictions. Those programs really work and I’m all for those types of programs.
CHFA also does address multifamily housing, so those that don’t want to purchase, developers can use CHFA to build multi-family housing. I like those types of programs. I don’t like the, I’ll call it a “carte-blanche” requirement of 830-g. I just think it takes away local control. They create these laws and it’s a round cylinder that they try to fit into square holes.
Like I’ll take, for instance, Madison. We do not have town sewers. So to create a law that has this requirement, but not taking it into account that cities and some municipalities have sewage systems where we don’t and we won’t in the foreseeable future — I just think that that’s pretty inconsistent.
CTEx: How well has the state been doing in balancing green energy goals with the cost of electricity and gasoline? What should they be doing?
RASIMAS: We always have to look at the tax and the regulations. Most will say we have the highest or one of the highest energy prices around the country. We’re a high tax state. We’re a high regulation state.
It all gets back to until we make Connecticut more affordable, business-friendly, really look at the regulations and say, where can we help business flourish here — that’s businesses in general, but that also includes utility companies. I don’t think we’re going to make any headway until we really look at those factors.
Obviously those things are costs of doing business for the utilities, and that just simply gets passed on to the consumers. That’s one thing that folks really have to realize — that bureaucracy, regulations, taxes that we put on companies come back at us, whether it’s in higher utility costs, whether it’s surcharges on food and groceries. We’re going to see that with the diesel tax and with the truckers tax.
It all gets down to, we have to be a more affordable state — not only for our residents, but also for the businesses that do business here,
I think everybody’s for a clean environment. I’m basically running for my kids and my grandkids. I want to stay in Connecticut. My family’s here, and I worry about them, whether it’s going to be an affordable state for them as well. But having said that, obviously I want them to be in a state that is environmentally sound, and is clean. So it’s a tough question to answer.
As you look at what regulations you put in place and what changes you make to help conservation and to help environments you have to look at the costs and weigh whether it’s something that makes sense.
CTEx: What should the state be doing to make healthcare more affordable and more accessible?
RASIMAS: We have to look at what types of economies of scale can be made. I kind of shy away from government-sponsored healthcare. I’ve just seen what government does over my career. When you give something to government, it just seems to become more costly and not as efficient.
I’m all for private insurance, but there’s no doubt that we have to have some type of system in place to control those increases because if we don’t do that, obviously, it kind of becomes the wild west where nobody’s held accountable to what those increases are.
We have to take a look at how we regulate healthcare, how we weigh proposed increases. Part of that has to do with what healthcare companies have to provide by state law. Perhaps we have to look at how we put those impositions on healthcare providers, because we can pass a law that says, “Okay, health insurance has to cover B, C and D now,” where they didn’t have to before — obviously there’s a cost to that. Then you have to pull apart whether a cost increase can be attributed to increased services, better services, better healthcare versus how much of it is going to the bottom line of these healthcare providers.
But getting back to what I said earlier, when you get away from government-sponsored plans and you look at private plans, in a perfect world, competition breeds efficiencies, and the better providers, the more efficient companies should come out ahead.
CTEx: What are your thoughts on the Police Accountability Law? Are there things you believe need to be changed?
RASIMAS: Right at the top of the list is qualified immunity. We have to reinstitute that. Municipalities are having a hard time hiring cops and, quite honestly, I’m not sure if I would recommend a family member to go into the law enforcement field in Connecticut without that qualified immunity. What people don’t understand is that qualified immunity is not absolute immunity, and I truly believe that there are a small percentage of bad actors in law enforcement and they should be held accountable. But I believe there’s a very, very high percentage of law enforcement officers that are fantastic officers. They have a very difficult job. There’s a lot of Monday morning quarterbacks out there that criticize them.
But when you look at the situations that they’re in, it’s always easy to second-guess them from people that are on the outside, but they’re not sitting there at two o’clock in the morning on a police stop and understanding the danger that some of these officers are put in.
I was very clear that I believe we have to go back on the police accountability bill. Quite honestly, I don’t see much that was good in that.
We really do have to support law enforcement because I have a feeling, and I think it’s a pretty legitimate feeling, that there are many times where officers don’t want to get involved, and I guess you could say, do their job because they fear they’re going to be second guessed if something bad goes down.
CTEx: What are your thoughts about the legalization of marijuana? What needs to be changed? Are the regulations strong enough? Is the equity portion adequate?
RASIMAS: I had a big problem with the whole equity part of that, because it almost seems like we’re rewarding folks that were breaking the law before.
I know marijuana’s out there. I wouldn’t have voted for the bill, but I understand there are some pros to it. Probably most significantly is the fact that people can go to a dispensary, if they’re over 21 and be ensured that it’s a controlled product, whereas one of the major problems with fentanyl is that it’s laced in marijuana in an unregulated industry.
I get the positives. I get the tax revenues, although I don’t have the numbers off the top of my head, but the tax revenue is not all that significant. But I think another big problem with this whole legalization is, we basically told our youth that it’s okay to smoke pot — we have to acknowledge that.
Having said that, we have to realize that kids under 21 are still not going to be able to go to these dispensaries. They’re going to go to the street. Again, society’s kind of given its rubber stamp of approval on it. When they’re buying on the street and they’re going into the cities to buy, a lot of those products are laced with fentanyl and that kills kids and it kills a lot of kids.
I don’t think it’s going away. I don’t think the support is there to go back on legalizing it. We just have to do a lot more with education and treatment for our youth, and education being all about letting our kids know that, no, we’re not saying it’s okay. We have legalized alcohol sales, but we try to tell our youth it’s not okay to overindulge, you shouldn’t be doing it as a youth, you shouldn’t be driving after you’ve consumed alcohol. We have to do the same thing with marijuana.
The other thing that kind of scares me is, as far as I know, there’s really no easy way to test somebody if they’re pulled over or involved in an accident, whether they’re impaired by marijuana. Unless there’s something I’m not aware of, that could be an issue as well.
CTEx: You mentioned that juvenile justice was a key issue for you. How in particular do you think the juvenile justice system needs to change?
RASIMAS: It all gets down to there have to be consequences for these juveniles, even on the first offense. This goes back to former Governor Dan Malloy’s juvenile justice reforms, which basically said that we have to treat kids differently. Their brains are not fully developed. I guess my answer to that is, if they’re not fully developed, should we be giving them keys to a vehicle? Should we raise the licensing age? I’m not saying that’s what we should do, but if we’re making that claim or if that claim is being made, one could counter with that.
I’ve raised children. Anybody that’s raised children properly will say, if you don’t have consequences for your three-year-old for something that they’re doing, they’re going to do it again, and they’re not even going to think twice about it. Whereas if you do have a consequence, at least they think about it. It’s just bizarre that we allow these youthful offenders to just keep offending.
It’s not a second chance situation. It’s a 14th or 15th chance, or until they do something so bad that they are pulled into adult court and my point is, why do we wait for that? What can we say to the 13 other individuals that were affected by the crimes that these juvenile offenders were a part of.
We just have to get a lot stricter. What went down with the last session fell short, it was very minimal. Until we put some real teeth into the system, I don’t think we’re doing the offenders — these youth — any favors, because we’re telling them there’s no consequences.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, if not higher, they’re going to do it again — and what kind of life does that lead them into? Having some firm consequences right off the bat is going to, in the long run, help these youth as well — because if we don’t do anything, they’re just going to do it again.
CTEx: Where do you see yourself in today’s Republican Party?
RASIMAS: I’m definitely a fiscal conservative. I would say a social moderate. I’m pro-choice. I do have concerns about assault rifles. I do believe in the second amendment. I think we have to strike a balance between public safety and being able to defend oneself with, I guess I’ll say, a reasonable type of weapon.
I really see no use for assault rifles. I know at times some folks on the right-wing side of my party will not agree with me. Obviously, being pro-choice puts me in conflict with some of the fringes of the party, but I’d say I’m very moderate as far as the social issues.