April 15, 2005: Headlines: Figures: COS - Fiji: Politics: Congress: Greenwich Citizen: Chris Shays, clipboard and pen in hand, faced more than 50 citizens in Town Hall and asked: "What would you like to talk about?"

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Chris Shays, clipboard and pen in hand, faced more than 50 citizens in Town Hall and asked: "What would you like to talk about?"

Chris Shays, clipboard and pen in hand, faced more than 50 citizens in Town Hall and asked: What would you like to talk about?

Chris Shays, clipboard and pen in hand, faced more than 50 citizens in Town Hall and asked: "What would you like to talk about?"

Shays, Citizens Joust over Gas Taxes, Social Security, Ethics

By Patricia McCormack HYPERLINK mailto:pmccormack@bcnnew.com pmccormack@bcnnew.com

Participatory democracy took a turn for the better Saturday morning when U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, R-4, clipboard and pen in hand, faced more than 50 citizens in Town Hall and asked: "What would you like to talk about?" Hands went up. He pointed. A person shot back: "The gas tax." Shays jotted "gas tax" on the yellow legal pad on the clipboard. One by one, he pointed. And one by one, came responses.

The list on the yellow pad grew. On it when Republicans and Democrats stopped speaking out were the following topics: Gas taxes, transportation, ethics in Congress with particular attention to U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, President Bush's RX for Social Security reform, inequities in Social Security payments that short-change persons on teacher's pensions, the estate tax, illegal immigrants and immigration laws and outsourcing.

Shays held up the clipboard and quipped: "Where to start?" "On something we can all agree on." Folks responded with belly laughs. This was a friendly crowd and Shays, a master at the town meeting format, knew the constituents of both political stripes and the unaffiliated, too, wanted to inform him of their points of view, wanted his reaction, and expected some give and take. He dismissed estate taxes first, saying the issue is up to "you and Gov. Rell."

Gas Taxes: Increase Federal

Next, noting that Connecticut has the worst bridges and roads in the nation, Shays leaned into the gas tax as part of the transportation issue. Rell wants a six-cent hike in the tax to help fund her ambitious package of transportation remedies. Shays favors a hike in the federal part. For every penny the state sticks on the gas tax, the state will rake in $15 million, according to Shays' calculations. The same for the federal part. At that rate, Rell's six cents translates to $90 million. As Shays tells it, there should be no whines over the pain at the pump if the federal tax goes up, too.

"We as a state get back $1.44 for every $1 that goes to the federal government in the gas tax," he said. "Florida, Ohio and Texas get back only 90 cents. They want more. If theirs is raised to 95 cents, we will get less. There's a big battle in Congress to raise theirs to 95 cents." Shays also revealed that Uncle Sam spends more on transportation in Connecticut than the state does. The tax pennies at the gas pump these days when refined gas prices are sky-high don't take an enormous amount from motorists, according to Shays. "If you get 20 miles to the gallon and drive 20,000 a year, a penny hike would cost $10 a year. If you get 10 miles to the gallon, the cost would be $20 a year."

After the gas tax issue, Shays turned to illegal immigrants. "Illegal immigration is the most difficult issue I deal with," he said. "My basic view is that if you pass laws, you must enforce them. If you are here illegally, you should be sent home. "Historically, if workers do work other people won't do, my general view is that there might be ways to increase legal immigration." He touched hearts by noting: "They include many people who would die to get in. It is tremendously difficult to stop people willing to die to get to America."

A Greenwich financial problem with illegal immigration is that the Federal government mandates that their children must be educated in the local school system. Selectman Peter Crumbine told Shays that the solution to that problem is simple. He asked: ""Why don't we send that bill back to Washington?" "You could do that," Shays replied. "But it is not easy to deal with."

After immigration, Shays talked about outsourcing

shipping white-collar work to India, China and other nations where workers toil for less. This improves the bottom line profits for corporations such as nearby IBM and General Electric based in Fairfield. "Outsourcing is like gravity," Shays said. "You can't get rid of it."

Social Security Reform

On Social Security reform, Shays, meanwhile, indicated he is of an open mind and not buying hook, line and sinker into the plan President Bush is pushing. That one includes personal savings accounts. The matter very much is open to discussion and Shays says he is listening to constituents. One is to lift or eliminate the ceiling on salaries taxed for Social Security purposes. The top now is $90,000 a year, but if it was raised to earnings above that all the way to the multi-millions paid CEOs, entertainers and sports' stars critics claim the Social Security fund would gush money like an oil well instead of being threatened with belly-up by the mid-21st century.

On the energy crisis, meanwhile, Shays said: "I don't think we will have a world to live in if we continue our wasteful ways." He was referring to Greenhouse gases depleting the ozone and air pollution that is poisoning our air

such as the fall- out from coal-burning energy plants in the Midwest blamed for acid rain and an increase in asthma in Connecticut. He complained that moves are afoot to exempt China and India from clean air standards around the world. "The fact is that Oregon and Washington State now are dealing with pollution from China," he added.

Better Gas Mileage Would Help

Domestically, in a related matter, Shays would like to see the auto industry produce SUVs and trucks that get better gas mileage. He also recommends federal, state and local governments ask consumers to do a better job of conserving energy. Shays was unable to give much hope to folks who complained about inequities in the Social Security system that penalize people who paid into Social Security at times in their work life but now draw pensions from a longer span of life such as a teacher or other government worker covered by a different system.

Terry Avery, 66, said he has been working since he was 16. He taught school in Greenwich for 37 years and is drawing a teacher's pension. But he contends that he has been paying into Social Security since he was 16 including while working on the side during his teaching years. He wants to know why he cannot get a Social Security check, too. The reason, it develops, is that Connecticut is one of 17 states that will not allow persons on a government pension to collect a Social Security check, too.

Inequities in System

Another situation was cited by Ellizabeth Buddy and her husband, Mike. "I collect a teacher's pension," she said, for teaching 38 years. "My husband is on Social Security. If he dies, I am not entitled to the survivor's benefit other people get when their spouse on Social Security dies. "If Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE, dies, his wife will get the Social Security survivor's benefit. What's going on here is not fair."

On another front, Shays revealed that the controversial DeLay, Republican and U.S. House of Representatives majority leader, never would get to be Speaker of the House. "If it ever comes to a vote, I will vote against him," Shays said. "And so will the Democrats so my vote will mean he won't get the job." DeLay, a powerhouse in the Republican Party, is being investigated about possible illegal campaign contributions and other matters.

Shays was peppered with questions about DeLay during the two-hour town meeting. Dr. Donald Dworken asked: "Do you feel that Tom DeLay is dangerous due to his attitude toward the Judicial Branch of government." The 4th District congressman replied: "I don't think DeLay is going to survive. He goes to the edge and he goes beyond. Even knowing there's a microscope over him, he continues to do these things."

At the end of the meeting, Pam Frederick, a Greenwich banker, RTM delegate Dist. 1 and member of the Democratic Town Committee, was asked to size up Shays' performance. She told the Greenwich Citizen: "I like to hear his perspectives. I like his approach to issues. He lays it all out and tells how he voted and why.

"Seeing him talk about his perspectives in a meeting like this is better than just reading reports on what he says. "He has a balanced approach and doesn't curry favor for power. He will take the consequences of being on the moral side of issues." Other Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated present apparently feel the same way about their Republican congressman. There was healthy give and take during the meeting, but Shays didn't have to deal with even one brickbat.

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Story Source: Greenwich Citizen

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