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Rodgers Responds To Lyddy's Remarks On ECS, Local Taxes

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Rodgers Responds To Lyddy’s Remarks On ECS, Local Taxes

By John Voket

After a relatively quiet and civil campaign season, the gloves have quickly come off between 106th District contenders Will Rodgers and Christopher Lyddy, who currently serve together as respective Republican and Democratic colleagues on the Legislative Council.

In a piece in the September 19 edition of The Bee, both candidates tendered positions on addressing inequities in the state Education Cost Sharing formula. The challengers asserted their positions on how, if elected, each would work to achieve greater benefits to Newtown and other smaller communities, which typically fare much worse than Connecticut’s larger and more poorly performing school systems when that formula is applied to determine state funding reimbursements.

While providing some general ideas on how he would seek to achieve greater educational reimbursements to Newtown and similar communities, Mr Lyddy chose the opportunity to criticize Mr Rodgers for not doing enough to bring about change, and standing by while taxes “…doubled under his watch.”

Mr Rodgers said in a rebuttal statement that his opponent’s comments reflect “naiveté, unfamiliarity with the legislative process, superficial thinking, and hypocrisy.”

“First, Mr Lyddy stated that after my time on the local Legislative Council, it would seem I would have brought about ‘the change we need ... by now.’ Clearly, the proposed education funding changes that were the subject of the article all must be accomplished at the state level, not the local level,” Mr Rodgers pointed out. “If Mr Lyddy does not realize that, he would be well served to acquire knowledge and experience of the interplay between local and state government before seeking to leapfrog from the former to the latter.”

Mr Rodgers said giving his opponent the benefit of the doubt and inferring “from his remarks that, as part of my volunteer time in local politics, I should have been leading a grass roots efforts to pressure the General Assembly to make Education Cost Sharing formula changes, then I can only state in response that while I do not know where Mr Lyddy’s job earnings go, mine go to pay a mortgage, support a family, and meet the real property tax burden he mentions so frequently. Consequently, I could not spare any additional volunteer hours to lead any grass roots efforts in this regard.”

In addition to his position on the council, Mr Rodgers volunteered to take nearly a year’s leave from his council duties to serve in place of a younger Marine Corps reservist in Iraq in late 2006 and early 2007.

Mr Lyddy suggested his Republican opponent still found ways to involve himself in other state issues, and to work with local legislators on different legislation.

“If that is the case, why haven’t property taxes and education been on his agenda? To me, a true advocate removes barriers to get things done. Instead, Mr Rodgers has created them so that he can say it isn’t within the scope of his limited responsibilities,” Mr Lyddy stated.

Mr Rodgers countered that he is in a better position than his Democratic opponent to roll up his sleeves and begin reforming education funding from within at the state level, in part, because of the contacts he has made and the knowledge he has acquired during his tenure in local public service.

To Mr Lyddy’s assertion that property taxes have more than doubled on his watch, Mr Rodgers responded that his opponent’s “superficiality is profound if one considers how much the taxes would have increased had not the Legislative Council consistently reduced the requests made by town departments and even other local, elected government bodies over the years.”

Mr Lyddy said he was clearly referring to the drastic increase in Newtown’s property taxes over the past 10 to 15 years, appearing to fault council representatives and other political leadership past and present for an apparent lack of “innovative and forward thinking around how we cannot only cut back on unnecessary spending, but how we can also find ways to fund our most valuable municipal and educational services.”

“It is unconscionable that Newtown and its representatives have allowed this type of increase to happen,” Mr Lyddy stated. “Our representatives need to look for ways to fund both our municipal and educational needs. We need leadership willing to listen to the people, address the problem and come up with innovative solutions. Newtown has changed in the past 15 years and we need our leadership to catch up with that change.”

Mr Rodgers conceded he has an established voting record that makes him “an easy target for my opponent.”

But, Mr Rodgers contends that Mr Lyddy’s “fledgling record makes it hypocritical for him to decry rising property taxes as he’s twice voted in support of a costly, overblown high school addition, measures that I opposed.”

Mr Lyddy said people should have the right to vote on a project that is going to cost them close to $44 million, especially since there was already tremendous support for the project in an April referendum authorizing the initial $38.8 million for the expansion. The school board has since requested an additional appropriation because bids for the project came in more than $6 million over budget.

Mr Rodgers said ultimately, his Democratic opponent is short on details supporting his repeated calls for change.

“Specifically, while he calls for ‘comprehensive property tax reform to more equitably fund public education,’ a linking of two very complex problems that need not necessarily be linked, the only detail he offers as to how to accomplish this goal is to create a ‘task force comprised of economic experts, educational leaders, and elected officials.’ Perhaps he is not aware that there have been such groups in the recent past,” Mr Rodgers observed. “The bottleneck is at the General Assembly.”

The Republican challenger said, if elected, his plan is to jump right in to the fray, forming a coalition of legislators from small town areas in the long term, and advocating for Newtown in the short term to increase total education funding, whether by revised ECS formula or more directly.

“If the voters review last week’s article, it’s clear that I have examined this issue in more detail and have a better plan for how to deal with it than Chris does,” Mr Rodgers said. “Beyond restating the problems and calling for ‘real reform,’ ‘change that will make a real difference,’ and ‘no boundaries and no limits,’ Mr Lyddy doesn’t offer much.”