Former First Selectman Leo Paul Jr. , above left, was back on the front line, albeit briefly, on Thursday when he chimed in on state fiscal policy during the Litchfield-Morris Rotary Club meeting at the Forman School.
Paul, who graced the first selectman’s seat for 16 years before stepping down in November, is joining the Rotary Club and participated in a discussion on the state’s bleak fiscal condition with state Rep. David T. Wilson, R-Litchfield, above right, a member of the club, and fellow Rotarians.
As first selectman, Paul, a Republican, was a tireless advocate of small towns while holding executive positions with the Connecticut Council of Small Towns, the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and the Northwest Hills Council of Elected Officials.
One of the biggest problems municipalities are facing, Paul said, involves Gov. Ned Lamont holding them hostage by withholding state aid towns and cities rely on to maintain their roads. Lamont has been withholding aid since the debate over his tolls plan began last year.
Wilson, who announced his plan to seek a third and final term in November, updated the Rotary Club on the legislature’s recent doings, including the debate of Lamont’s withdrawn plan for truck tolls on state highways.
While the state’s fiscal picture remains cloudy because of excessive spending and taxation, Wilson said he’s optimistic that things could be turning around because public input on legislative issues has reached a new high.
“The activism is finally getting through to the legislature,” Wilson said. “The phone calls the emails and the testimony are making a difference. That’s what we want to see.”
Lamont’s plan for tolls and issues such as gun control and mandatory vaccination have helped spark a public awakening, according to Wilson, that has had an obvious impact on spendthrift and tax-happy Democrats in the legislature.
“The people of Connecticut are telling us they don’t trust us, and legislature and the governor have heard that,” Wilson said in response to a question about trust from Rotarian Ted Murphy. “How do we get that trust back, I’m really not sure.”
Getting Democratic legislators to curb their uncontrolled spending and a desire to pass out “free stuff,” Wilson said, could be a step in the right direction. A major roadblock, however, is the penchant legislators have of pursuing funding for pet projects in their districts as a way to keep their seats.
“If you can send benefits back to your district, you have a better chance of being elected,” Wilson said.
Voters, too, have to shoulder some of the blame for returning questionable legislators to office.
“We can point the finger at the legislature, but we have to look at ourselves for sending the same people back to Hartford,” Wilson said.
As for the future, Wilson said there is no sign of Democratic spending and taxing urges going away.
“They want to reach deeper and deeper into your pockets,” he said. “There’s no shut-off valve.”
As for his position as a legislator, Wilson said a third two-year term would be enough. When he first ran for state representative, in 2015, Wilson said he would pursue no more than three terms.