Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Catherine Johnson - Response to Eye Election Questionnaire

Candidate: Catherine Johnson, challenger state representative 33th district.
Opponent: Joe Serra, incumbent Democratic state representative, 33th district.

The economy is the most important, and most frightening issue facing the voting populace. What will you do to help individuals, and municipalities deal with the realities of a failing economy?

Building a commuter rail line along the CT River could be the economic
generator we need. A train from Middletown to Hartford could give our cities greater access and appeal. A train could access underutilized urban land along these lines, which would be ideal locations for new industry and housing. New development not only would grow the tax base in each of these cities, it would attract more people to central CT, where many towns actually suffer from population deficits.

Elected officials are famous for talking about the value of a good education? How would you address issues in education like equity across municipal lines, student achievement, teacher compensation, student opportunity. What practical and realistic steps would you take?

I support state funding to make pre-K programs universal, which research has demonstrated are effective at giving kids a solid head start on education. I favor K-12 state education
standards and testing requirements. Increasing teacher salaries (via a step-pay system) is one positive step in attaining these standards. I believe establishing and then funding state standards is more effective than federal standards and testing requirements (per No Child...).

I favor state funded incentives for financial aid to make college more affordable for everyone, and favor permitting illegal immigrants who graduated from CT high schools to pay in-state

Giving students choices must include the full range of academic and non-academic opportunities. This would include exposure to music and art, two programs often to be the first cut in curricula.

This state has spent billions building highways, but precious little developing a mass transit infrastructure. How will you redirect state goals away from more and bigger roads and towards energy-efficient mass transit?

Here are the suggestions that I submitted to the legislative Smart Growth Economic Dev’t committee for inclusion in the 2009 session for what we can do right away:

• Remove subsidies to companies for travel by car: gasoline, parking, insurance. Substitute a Transit subsidy instead: pre-tax transit passes. Provide incentives for all state and municipal employees to commute ($2,000 tax credit)

• Fund and create immediately a CT Transit Website that shows all bus routes, rail, etc in the whole state plus NY and MA connections. Website would be overseen by a top-notch communication firm and be graphically based (not word-based). Information telephone 20/7 with human beings answering the calls.

• Sponsor classes educating the general public about transit-oriented development and anti-sprawl development (traditional neighborhoods).

• Hold a state-wide transit & design study with best US experts to identify best transit corridors. DOT can't do this (too entrenched). Must have community planning approach involving public planning workshops.

• Install streetcars into the 10 major cities within 5 years. Pay for installation with tax-increment financing (TIFF).

Currently Middletown does not receive it's full promised PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) allotment. What will you do to remedy that?

26% of the land in the city cannot be taxed, and falls under this program. The burden of paying for services with all the vicissitudes of the economy and market is being borne by residential
taxpayers. Perhaps the answer is a regional sales tax sharing to offset this burden, or setting up a credit bank where every town pays into (or extracts from) as needed.

Our governments spend millions in a futile war on drugs which consumes the time and attention of police, courts, counselors, correctional institutions. What is your opinion on the decriminalization of marijuana?

I believe we should legalize it. Two members of my family in their 80’s support this idea, much to my amazement, for use as a pain reliever. Among the benefits for changing things, I think it would reduce a certain segment on the prison population and we can spend our money on better things.

All government, but particularly state government is confusing and out-of-reach for most citizens. What can you do toward promoting open government and assuring the voting populace that they can know about legislation, and have a say in the laws that are passed? What will you do towards promoting an atmosphere of open government?

In this electronic age, there is little excuse to not be transparent and share information. I will host a weekly journal, have informational cable spots, hold round table and town hall discussions, and conduct on-line surveys (Survey to cull opinions about issues before us.

The state currently spends millions in an attempt to get film business to work in Connecticut. How will you create a program to encourage new, green permanent manufacturers to locate in Connecticut?

You can’t create jobs, but you can create the environment that fosters an ideal setting for them. Building upon the idea that transit can play a primary role, I would favor a competition for
the first building sites along the new transit lines, so the Dept of Economic Dev’t can pick the cream of the crop. Read more in this week’s Place: “Connecting Central CT by Rail.”

What is your position on preserving a clean and viable environment in Connecticut? How will you help preserve open space and farmland? What will you do revive the Connecticut River?

River? How can we prevent further suburban sprawl? Build compact, walk-able, mixed-use neighborhoods with well-defined neighborhood centers. Offer within each a wide range of housing types and sizes in order to promote diversity and keep the neighborhood vital.
Create an interconnected network of streets. Offer a range of park and other natural land for recreation and the enjoyment of the human habitat.
Offer transportation options like rail, bus, bikepaths, sidewalks.
Set aside land with prime soil for agricultural use.
Explore options for growing industry. Every city has unique traits no other has: let’s exploit them through job creation.
River clean-up: we need to change how we treat our trash, and start a pick-litter-up-when-you-see it-approach.
River education for the public and industry alike.

Middletown has experienced a renaissance in the past 10 years. What will you do to help promote and extend that renaissance?

First: let’s discover what is physically possible. I would first develop a (graphic) Master Plan illustrating the development potential for the many empty spaces downtown. I would hold a competition for the 5 top sites and advertise the winning entries. I would invite the most
talented classicist architects to design one typical building and offer the designs for free to builders (lots 50’ wide or less). I would create incentives for the renovation of upper stories over
the stores for housing and offices. I would buy sexier buses and promote bus travel.

Second: what can downtown be like as a place of activity? How can we make it a more livable neighborhood?
I think we need to demonstrate that our social capital is as valued as monetary capital.
We have a lot of talent in this city, but no nexus. Small-scale groups are looking into ways to connect better, but I would like to see this taking place at a more significant scale. We need to
encourage innovation and collaboration so Middletown truly blossoms, as many of us know it could.

Does a two party political system still work?

In order to offer wider options for voters, we need a THIRD party. I salute the several parties attempting to establish themselves in Connecticut. I am among those who seek something other than Republican or Democrat. Democracy is thwarted because each of the two established parties works hard to keep the status quo for themselves instead of creating ways to find the best candidate.

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