State Senator Ted Kennedy Jr. (D-12) said he will bring his experience as a health care regulatory attorney and his work as a disability and environmental advocate back to the table in a second term.
On Tuesday, Nov. 8, Kennedy will again face Republican Bruce Wilson, Jr., after his 2014 victory for the seat vacated by retiring Democrat Ed Meyer. Kennedy said he is ready to take on the challenges another term would bring.
“I think our state is facing some serious economic challenges,” he said. “As a regulatory lawyer who understands how regulations impact business, as an activist trying to protect the rights of people with disabilities and our seniors, and as an environmental champion, I believe I have the skills to best represent this region.”
A Branford resident for nearly 25 years, Kennedy came to Connecticut as a Wesleyan undergrad and then went on to the Yale School of Forestry in 1989 as an environmental studies graduate student. A father of two, Kennedy said he will continue to listen to constituents and fight for issues that matter most.
“I love this area,” he said. “I am willing to listen and although people many not agree with every single thing that I vote on, I think people will acknowledge that I really take the time to understand different points of view.”
With the state facing numerous economic challenges in the years ahead, Kennedy said he's ready to work with Democrats and Republicans to tackle the state’s problems.
“I think that most people in this area really want someone who is going to be a collaborator,” he said. “That is a skill I think I have really brought with me to my job. We need to work together as a team—we are not going to get ahead by bickering or attacking each other. It is Connecticut vs. the rest of the states. If we are fighting amongst each other, we are never going to be able to improve our standing vis a vis other states.”
Kennedy said it is no surprise the number one issue constituents want to discuss with him is jobs and the economy. With a challenging business climate in the state, Kennedy said there needs to be a multi-pronged approach to growing businesses and keeping jobs.
“I think if we are not fighting for every single job, we are going to lose those jobs because we are competing with every single other state in the country for these jobs,” he said. “We need to concentrate on the core business that we have already excelled in such as advanced manufacturing, healthcare, insurance, and areas like that, because we are already good in those areas and to grow sectors we are already good at I think is a lot more strategic than trying to be all things to all people.”
Kennedy said the state needs to be more engaged in supporting businesses already established in the state.
“We need to work much more collaboratively with business,” he said. “I speak to a lot of businesses around the district and they have never gotten a phone call from the state. No one has ever bothered to reach out to them from the state and say, ‘What can we do, what issues are you having, can we make your life easier, are you having trouble with permits?’ We need to do a much better job at that.”
A key factor in supporting businesses will be taking a closer look at taxes, according to Kennedy.
“I have talked about harmonizing some of the taxes we have with other states,” he said. “We are never going to be the least expensive place to live in the United States—that is just not going to happen—but what we need to do is make sure we are at least competitive with our surrounding New England states. I am talking about identifying what are the key six or seven taxes that businesses pay and making sure that we can meet or beat the taxes of our surrounding states. We can’t be losing business from Connecticut to Massachusetts or New York.”
The State Economy
Kennedy said the government is going to have to take a closer look at how to reduce spending at the state level.
“It is not going to be easy, but we need to take a step back and figure out how we are going to provide the biggest bang for the buck when it comes to our scarce tax dollars,” he said. “There may be programs that we have been funding for many years that people like, but we have to ask ourselves, ‘Is that really a priority for our state?’”
In his first term, Kennedy voted for the budget on both occasions.
“Since I was elected, we have cut the state budget by about $1.5 billion, so we have reduced significantly the size of our state budget. That wasn’t easy because a lot of these are programs that really impact a lot of people,” he said. “But when we passed the last budget, we didn’t raise income taxes, we didn’t raise sales taxes, and we didn’t raise business taxes...That was something I heard really loud and clear.”
Kennedy said the budget process needs to be reexamined. He said the practice of voting on the budget in the final hours of the session is frustrating.
“We are not even given an opportunity to review this document. It is 750 pages long and we get it less than 24 hours before we are asked to vote,” he said. “Businesses will tell you that it is one of the frightening things about our state government and that one of the things we can do to improve our business climate is to improve the predictability in what we are doing.”
As chair of the Senate Environment Committee, Kennedy helped to pass nearly 40 bills with bipartisan support, according to his website tedkennedyjr.com. He said there is still a lot of work to be done to protect Connecticut’s environment.
“We still have more work to do in terms of cleaning up the environment [and] coastal resiliency issues, and I still believe that we use way too many toxic pesticides and herbicides on our lawns and on our crops that go into our streams and ultimately pollute Long Island Sound,” he said. “Those are the types of issues I want to continue to work on.”
Kennedy has championed clean water infrastructure, renewable energy, and increased recycling efforts and pushed for improvements at state parks. Kennedy said protecting the state’s environment leads to economic benefits for the state as well.
“One of the ways we are going to attract people here, not just in tourism but also as a place to live, is if we have these incredible environmental amenities like Hammonasset and open space,” he said. “We have a very high quality of life here, so we can’t afford to take a step back on that. If we trash our environment, it is going to make Connecticut a much less desirable place to be and it is going to be a lot harder to sell our state as a business or tourist destination.”
Kennedy said he will continue to focus on healthcare and specifically push for more transparency in healthcare—particularly when it comes to coverage for mental health services and pharmaceutical companies.
“We spend a tremendous amount of money on home care and Medicaid. It is about 25 percent of our budget,” he said. “We also spend a lot of money on benefits for state employees and others.”
Kennedy said there are a number of ways to lower those costs. In his first term, Kennedy said he has been working to address the issue of home- and community-based care versus nursing home care.
“The cost for somebody to be in a nursing home, which is primarily paid for by state Medicaid dollars, is about $125,000 a year and comprehensive home care services is about $25,000 a year,” he said. “It is a lot less expensive. but we as a state make it a lot easier for somebody to qualify for nursing home care than helping them figure out home care services. If you can delay somebody going into a nursing home for two or three years, that saves our state a tremendous amount of money and it’s what people want. They want to stay home, so I have made that my priority in the Public Health Committee.”
Kennedy had previously said the state’s adaption of the Common Core happened too quickly, and while he is in favor of the central concepts, wants to see more power given to individual school districts.
“Ted knows that our school systems are not one-size-fits-all, and he is concerned that there is overemphasis on the use of standardized testing as an assessment tool for teachers,” his website states. “He believes that local school districts need even greater power and flexibility to design their own curricula, evaluate teachers, and create their own professional development programs.”
In the next few years, Kennedy said there needs to be a bigger conversation about how education is funded, particularly after numerous towns in the state lost money through the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant in the last budget.
“No one wants to cut education—no one does,” he said. “It is a flawed formula. I think we are probably going to be re-looking at how the state allocates money towards school districts. I honestly think that both Democrats and Republicans are working hard to agree on the fact that the cost sharing formula needs to be reexamined.”
The candidates will face off at debates held by the League of Women Voters on Tuesday, Oct. 18 at 7:30 p.m. at the Guilford Community Center, 32 Church Street and on Tuesday, Oct. 25 at 7:30 p.m. at the Evergreen Woods Auditorium, 88 Notch Hill Road, North Branford.