Osten, Coutu spar over taxes and leadership during radio debate

The two candidates for the 19th District state Senate race sparred frequently during an hour-long radio debate this morning over taxes, leadership and the recent Norwich Public Utilities rate increases opposed by residents and businesses.

Democratic Sprague First Selectwoman Cathy Osten and Republican 47th District state Rep. Christopher Coutu appeared on the Lee Elci show on 94.9 FM, and by the end of the hour had only gotten through three of the 15 questions the radio show host had prepared. A second debate is planned.

The debate turned heated when Coutu accused Osten of running an autocratic town hall in Sprague in which employees and volunteer commission members are uncomfortable. He started to point out that two town employees have resigned, when Osten interrupted and accused Coutu of making a libelous statement without facts.

"That is a flat out lie. An absolute lie," Osten said.

She said one worker left after being accused of stealing money from the town. She said most board and commission members have served in their positions for years.

Coutu repeatedly painted Osten as a labor union leader and supporter of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's tax increases and spending increases that included "corporate welfare" to hedge fund companies and other large corporations and tax increases that have hurt residents and small businesses.

He said Sprague has an 11 percent unemployment rate, higher than the state and national averages. Coutu said he has been fighting to reduce taxes for working families.

But Osten repeatedly pressed Coutu for what specific cuts in services and state spending he would propose.

"Are you going to let me speak?" Coutu said after repeated interruptions.

Coutu, who prepares income tax returns for residents, said he opposes Malloy’s new Connecticut Earned Income Tax Credit. He said residents would be better off with lower gasoline taxes, sales taxes and without the expanded taxes on services ranging from dog grooming to clothing under $50.

Osten quickly fired back that Coutu’s proposal would hurt low income families who could least afford it.

“So you’re going to take away the earned income tax credit from the people who can least afford it,” Osten said. “… Thank you. I appreciate that.”

Later Thursday, Coutu said the state’s $1,700 earned income tax credit comes on top of a federal earned income tax credit to qualifying families of $6,000 and said the state cannot afford the extra boost.

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