2008-10-02 / Front Page

Candidates answer tough questions at forum

By Adrienne Downing

The state budget crisis, and what candidates planned to do about it, was the primary focus of much of the Candidates Forum at the Jamestown Senior Center on Sept. 24.

Before a full house, three of the four candidates for state office faced the public and answered a few tough questions at the forum sponsored by the Jamestown Shores Association.

M. Teresa Paiva Weed (DJamestown, Newport), Bruce Long (R-Jamestown, Middletown) and candidate Deb Ruggerio opened the program with a personal statement about why they were running for office, then took turns answering questions from the audience.

Donna Perry, the Republican running against Paiva Weed, was unable to attend the forum because of a conflict with the Melrose School Open House, but she did send a prepared statement, which was read at the beginning of the night.

All three candidates talked about the budget in their opening statements, but differed as to what approach would be best to balance the budget.

The first question of the night focused on the candidates' position on taxing boats and aircraft as a means of bringing more revenue to the state.

"I would have to look at your proposal, but yes, I would support that," Ruggerio said.

Long and Paiva Weed both cautioned against bringing back a tax on boats that has already been repealed by the General Assembly once.

"You have to be careful because the federal luxury tax and state sales tax decimated the boat industry in Rhode Island," he said. "That is why it was repealed."

Paiva Weed added that the state has seen significant growth since the repeal of the tax. She suggested that instead the state look at the tax incentives given to businesses. "Are we getting the most bang for our buck? Are these companies that we are giving these incentives to bringing in the kind of jobs with the kind of benefits we want? We need to look at whether or not this is good economic policy," she said.

Even with the tax incentives, resident Nancy Kolman Ventrone pointed out that Rhode Island has a difficult time attracting new businesses to the state.

Long said that business owners often evaluate locating their business in a state based on what it would be like for them to make their home in the state. "Business heads usually live where there business is. If we have problems in the state, it is less attractive for businesses to come here," he said.

"We need to demonstrate we are competent tax-wise to attract them," Paiva Weed said.

Ruggeri suggested making use of apprenticeship programs where business, education and legislators work together to create more jobs.

Kolman's son lives in California. "I would love for him to be here, but what kind of job would be able to get?" she said after the forum. "Even after my question, I was still a little fuzzy about what our General Assembly is doing to bring new businesses to the state."

One thing the candidates did agree on was the need to put the communities they will represent and its constituents first.

Phil Zarlengo did not ask a question during the questionand answer period, but he did feel that forum was a worthwhile endeavor. "I had a leaning of who I was going to vote for going into it, but the answers I heard helped crystallize my decision," he said.

Charlotte Zarlengo, president of the Shores Association, said this year was a good year for the forum. "We were very pleased with the turnout, not just people from the Shores area, but from the entire island. A lot of important issues came up during the forum and also during the coffee period after the official forum was over."

The final day to register to vote for the Tuesday, Nov. 4 election is Tuesday, Oct. 14 by 4 p.m. Absentee ballot requests must also be received by that time.

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