With some Darien residents worried about the possibility of forced school regionalization, State Rep. Matt Blumenthal, D-147, sought to allay fears Saturday morning at Darien Library.
About 30 people braved the morning snow accumulation to attend an informal Q-and-A with Blumenthal, the son of Connecticut’s U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, who geographically represents about half of Stamford and a slice of Darien along its northwestern border.
“On behalf of the town, we truly appreciate that Matt has made the effort to come,” said Selectman Susan Marks, “so he can share what’s on his mind and we can share what’s on our minds.”
“Darien has represented itself very well throughout this process,” he said, noting that emotional concerns over three proposed bills relating to education regionalization mandates have prompted some ornery opposition.
Yet Blumenthal, who provided attendees with a handout showing the lengthy process of passing legislation in Connecticut, downplayed worries.
“Nothing may happen on it,” he said, noting the committee work was part of a “winnowing process” aimed to pare down more than 5,000 bills proposed this session.
“Again, I don’t want to make any hard predictions, but we’re still at the beginning of this process,” he said, explaining that even State Sen. Martin Looney, D-11, who proposed Senate Bill No. 454—which represents a call for regionalization that affects Darien’s population number —has stated that his primary intention in presenting it was to get people’s attention and start a conversation.
“That provides some clarity to me … on the desired outcome,” Blumenthal said, noting Looney had no intention of “dying on that hill.”
“I support some sort of regionalization,” he said. “The devil is in the details.”
“I support looking at regionalization in terms of incentives,” he said. “I support looking at regionalization in terms of carrots and sticks, but it has to be based on actual research.”
“We should be looking at regionalization for everything, I think,” he said, including things like shared services for trash hauling and emergency dispatch. “We should be investigating that.”
The state’s financial issues were on people’s minds as well, and Blumenthal recounted some of the history leading to the pension contracts that promise to cost billions of dollars over the next several years.
“We’re really paying for the sins of the past,” he said, stating that 51 percent of the current budget is going to fixed costs.
“It really ties our hands on what we can and can’t cut,” he said.
Toward that end, some residents voiced concern about the impact the addition of tolls on I-95 would have on Darien’s traffic.
“People are going to get off the highway and we’re going to have a parking lot out here,” Marks said.
“We’re still very much in the negotiation process,” Blumenthal said, “very much in the beginning of it.”
He noted, however, that about $400 million dollars could be garnered through a toll system that addressed out-of-state drivers.
“I think we’re just throwing money out the window,” he said otherwise.
Likewise, he said investment in transportation infrastructure was paramount in order for Connecticut to attract new businesses, saying that it was the number one complaint he heard from companies considering the state for a headquarters.
“We need to make major investments for the future,” he said, in both trains and assuaging traffic problems.
Nurturing a workforce in the state is also important, he said, and steps need to be taken to make it an attractive place for younger professionals.
He said in the past the philosophy of the state was to “dump money” into keeping five or six large businesses, but said that approach should change to a more holistic look at what will make Connecticut a more attractive place for businesses and workers.
Blumenthal spoke in favor of legalizing marijuana, and urged the idea of doing so before surrounding state beat Connecticut to it.
“We’ll be missing out on the revenue and also we won’t have a comprehensive plan,” which he said needs to involve coping with driver under the influence and expunging convictions of those who had formerly been arrested for possession.
In summary, Blumenthal explained that personal negotiations and interactions were at the heart of how legislation moves forward.
“A lot of this process does happen person to person in the Legislative Office Building,” he said, and often brings unexpected turns of events.
Finally Blumenthal encouraged his constituents—and even those beyond his legislative borders—to reach out to him any time with their thoughts and concerns.
On wrapping up he told the crowd, “I hope you feel a bit calmer about some of these issues.”