I've been going around to a lot of municipal candidate sites, just to see what sorts of issues people across Connecticut seem to be concerned about this year. Here is a list of what the candidates, at least, are talking about:
A perennial favorite in municipal elections. The town/city budget is a big concern, as how money is spent and how much money is allocated directly affects the lives of all citizens in one way or another.
Most budget discussions this year by members of both parties seem to be focused on managing the town's money wisely and/or stingily. I didn't see too many big-ticket projects being promoted by candidates, although there are a few here and there.
A traditional part of municipal elections is the opposition party accusing the party in power of mismanaging the town's funds, and the party in power retorting that the opposition is crazy and doesn't understand anything. This is happening just about everywhere.
This goes hand in hand with the budget, and is becoming more important as state aid dwindles. Property taxes seem to be on everyone's minds, and most candidates are pledging to at least "hold the line," if not try to lower those taxes (good luck). Taxes, of course, are tied directly to...
This is one of the most divisive issues in suburban and rural Connecticut today. Falling state aid and rising populations outside the cities and core suburbs means that towns suddenly have to find a way to provide services for more people with either the same or fewer funds than they had before. One way out is to encourage economic development (another is to fiddle with zoning laws to ensure that only huge, expensive houses are built), which often takes the form of big-box retailers and national franchises coming in to town. This, detractors say, ruins the "character" of a place, and hurts small business. The often-bitter fight over putting a Wal-Mart in an exurban or rural area can color town politics for years.
In older suburban and urban areas, the talk is usually about redevelopment and revitalization. These sorts of fights can be just as nasty: ask West Hartford.
Most candidates are treading cautiously here. Most promote economic development but stress the "character" of the town in the same breath.
The biggest part of any town budget goes to the school system. In towns where budgets are decided by agonizing referendum after referendum, funding the schools can be an especially divisive issue.
Most candidates promise better schools through either clever management, new buildings or generally more spending. Few seem to have innovative plans.
Open, Accountable Government
Another favorite tactic of the opposition is to promise to "open city hall" to everybody, and to make government more accountable. This is easy to say, but almost impossible to deliver. Following years of statewide scandals, voters' desire for more open, accountable government may be increasing, and candidates who pledge this might actually be held to it.
There are plenty of other issues being talked about in cities and towns across the state, many of them town-specific.
It may be wise for next year's legislative and statewide candidates to see what issues have the greatest traction in local elections now.