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Hartford Courant: Best Bet For Republican Governor: David Stemerman

August 5, 2018

This year, Connecticut’s biggest challenge is its financial situation. Republicans must nominate someone who is fiscally savvy, brimming with new ideas and enthusiasm. He must be willing to put forward bold — but achievable —plans and be committed to seeing them through. The Republican candidate must be innovative, transparent and creative.

That candidate is David Stemerman.

Why David Stemerman?

The Republican field is thick with talented candidates, from independent entrepreneurs to experienced politicians. All five Republicans on the ballot paint their candidacies as antidotes to the Malloy years of sluggish growth and fiscal gloom.

How does one differentiate among them? They promise similar things: fiscal stability, job growth, lower taxes eventually. They all decry the mistakes that got Connecticut into this multibillion-dollar sinkhole.

But upon closer examination, Mr. Stemerman stands out.

He has done the math where others have offered only vague bromides or unrealistic promises. He does not claim to be able to eliminate the income tax. Rather, he lowers it in every bracket — but he makes up for the lost revenue by identifying specific cuts in spending, and by eliminating sales tax exemptions, among other things.

His plan, he says, balances the budget without relying on squishy estimates of hoped-for economic growth to get the math to work. “We are not betting a cent on growth,” he told The Courant’s editorial board. “It’s all paid for in tax cuts and revenue offsets.” While he might be overly optimistic about how much can be found in “efficiencies,” it’s smart to focus on cutting spending instead of crossing one’s fingers on the revenue side, and that distinguishes Mr. Stemerman among the candidates.

Mr. Stemerman has said from the beginning that there isn’t enough money to pay for the promises made to union workers and retirees. He is right. Other Republicans agree with him, but Mr. Stemerman has a detailed remedy to the problem: “We’re going to buy them out,” he said. The honesty is refreshing, and the plan is well worth considering.

He wants to create an independent, privately managed trust to take pensions off the state’s books. He wants to offer retirees lump sums or a mix of financial options that are fair to workers without sinking the state. He suggests that state assets can be leveraged to support financing.

While the details could be debated for years — and might be — it is an idea with merit, and Mr. Stemerman has put it on the table.

Additionally, Mr. Stemerman was the only Republican candidate to criticize President Trump for siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the U.S. intelligence community in a press conference in Helsinki in July. That shows character.

Why Not Mark Boughton?

Mr. Boughton, the mayor of Danbury and a former state legislator, was endorsed by the Republicans at the state convention. He has run Danbury well, and he has political experience that would benefit him in the governor’s office. He also understands the challenges faced by urban municipalities.

His promise to eliminate the income tax, however, raises concerns.

When pressed, he acknowledged to The Courant’s editorial board that eliminating it over 10 years is possible only if it’s paired with a significant restructuring of state government that saves more than $7 billion.

He doesn’t offer specifics about that restructuring, beyond eliminating the Board of Regents for the state colleges and universities system, privatizing the Department of Motor Vehicles, and pension reform. Other parts of his plan, he said, would require changes to state law and to the state constitution. He was reluctant to elaborate.

“It’s really adopting a pro-growth attitude toward our budgeting,” he said.

It’s fine to hold up “eliminate the income tax” as an imaginary finish line, but, honestly, it’s an empty promise. Mr. Boughton’s inability to provide details and firm figures shows it for what it is — wishful thinking. The state income tax brings in nearly half of all general fund revenue. He should be more forthcoming about what it would take to make it go away if he wants to win voters’ confidence.

Mr. Boughton, like Mr. Stemerman, proposes buying state workers out of their pensions. He has done it in Danbury by offering lump-sum payouts that employees can invest as they choose. Some 30 to 50 percent have accepted it. He claims it will save tens of millions in the out years and give workers options that fit their needs.

It’s a good plan, and he proposes leveraging state assets to pay for it, as does Mr. Stemerman.

Mr. Boughton is a strong candidate, but Mr. Stemerman’s plan is more pragmatic and detailed, and it shows more innovative thinking and vision.

Why Not Bob Stefanowski?