Ryan Fazio may only have been sworn in as the 36th District’s new senator on Aug. 26, but he has set himself a busy agenda.
“I’ll give you four priorities,” Fazio, whose district includes Greenwich and portions of Stamford and New Canaan, told the Business Journal. “The economy — particularly taxes and the cost of living — public safety, protecting local control of our towns and schools, and the quality of our schools.”
As one might expect from someone who spent over seven years as a commodities trader before joining a Stamford growth equity firm as vice president in February 2020, Fazio is a font of ideas on how to improve the economy and the business climate in Connecticut and Fairfield County.
And as someone who fell short in his run against then-incumbent Alex Kasser for the 36th’s senate seat in 2020 — only to triumph over Democrat Alexis Gevanter in the Aug. 17 special election to replace the abruptly retired Kasser — Fazio has his talking points down pat.
“That the economy in Connecticut has for a long time been among the weakest in the country is mind boggling,” the Republican said. “Besides our unfunded pension liabilities, we have the second-highest tax rate (12.6%, trailing only New York’s 12.7%), skyrocketing health insurance costs and the highest electricity costs in the continental United States.
“It’s too expensive to live here,” he said.
Regarding public safety, “homicides are up 34% in our cities, car thefts are up by 40%. I’ve had police chiefs tell me that the crime rate is going up at a breakneck pace this year. The challenge is to keep our most vulnerable communities safe.”
As for electricity, Connecticut’s statewide annual average electricity price — 18.66 per kilowatt hour — is indeed behind only Alaska’s and Hawaii’s.
“It’s a big problem,” Fazio said. “People are constantly saying that their electricity costs are prohibitive.”
To address that, the senator favors “limiting the monopoly of Eversource” by, among other measures, making contract talks with utilities open-bid and more transparent. He also favors refocusing the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) “on consumer protection.”
Fazio is also in lockstep with Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly’s (R-Stratford) plan to cut health insurance premiums by an average of 25% to 30%. While acknowledging that Gov. Ned Lamont helped keep insurance costs down via executive order during the Covid crisis, Fazio said that a more permanent approach is needed.
“We should be the hub for health care innovation,” he said.
The senator also sees a shortfall in support for small business.
“Big businesses are clearly important,” he said, “but our policy should not be based on trying to attract big businesses. The small businesses are getting crushed. We have a regressive payroll tax. Some have told me that since they can’t find workers, they may have to close for a few months. And these are unsolicited complaints.”
Fazio said he hoped to encourage a statewide approach to giving small businesses more priority when it comes to legislation and regulations.
Such a move — as well as changing the way Connecticut deals with most of the aforementioned issues — would require a bipartisan approach, especially in the face of the Democrats’ 97-54 majority in the House and 23-13 advantage in the Senate. (Fazio’s flipping the 36th District back to the GOP means the Democrats no longer have a super-majority that can override vetoes.)
“I will always try to reach across the aisle,” he said, adding that he believes there is a sufficient number of moderate Democrats to win over to the Republican side on a given topic, including health care.
“Even when there is a large majority of Democrats in state government, Republican policies can be adopted.”
Even so, “I hope that in 2022 we’ll have more Republicans (in the General Assembly),” Fazio said, adding that such an event would be to the benefit of workers, small businesses and consumers alike.
The Norwalk native noted that changes can come rapidly, especially over the last few years. He points to the his district as a prime example: When Kasser defeated L. Scott Frantz, who’d held the seat since 2008, by 1.4% in 2018, it was the first time the district had gone Democrat since 1930. She bested Fazio by 2.8% in 2020; he flipped the seat by defeating Gevanter by 2.5%.
“Obviously, historically this was a Republican district, as was most of lower Fairfield County,” Fazio said. “But over the last five to 10 years, it’s become much more purple, probably even light blue. There are 2,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans right now.”
He said he believed the absence of such national issues as “the last president and to some extent Covid” served to refocus voters on the economy, cost of living, public safety and other state and local issues by last November.
When questioned about Lamont, Fazio acknowledged that he had met him. “I’m very excited and hopeful that we can work together.”
Otherwise, he said, the governor is “a nice guy. And that’s better than not being a nice guy.”