MILLBROOK — A debate between Democrat Didi Barrett and Republican Rich Wager, candidates for the New York State Assembly 103rd District, was held on Monday, March 20, at the Millbrook Village Hall. Both candidates are residents of the village of Millbrook. The debate was sponsored by The Millbrook Independent. The two candidates will face off in a special election on Tuesday, March 20; they are running to fill the seat vacated by Marcus Molinaro, who left the position after winning the post of Dutchess County executive in November. The 103rd District represents the town of Washington and 21 other Dutchess and Columbia County municipalities.Former Millbrook Deputy Mayor Stan Morse moderated the debate. “We are lucky to have two bright, well-educated ... people that are passionate and interested in doing public service,” said Morse.Both candidates gave brief introductions on how their lives have prepared them for this election. Barrett spoke about being an active member in the Millbrook community for 25 years while Wager discussed how generations of his family prospered while living in Dutchess County.The candidates addressed how to deal with reducing the influence of money from politics, and what steps, if any, a New York state legislator should take in regulating money donated from corporations to politicians.Wager said that he believe the issue is one of transparency. Barrett said that transparency is a part of the process of campaign finance reform and that there is too much special interest money in all elections. Hydrofracking Candidates were then questioned about fracking, which is a method of extracting oil and natural gas. Morse asked if elected, how the candidates plan to approach proposed legislation regarding hydrofracking in New York state. “Hydrofracking, as people like to describe it, is a great economic opportunity,” said Wager. “My concern is safety, and that’s impacted 8 to 10 million people’s drinking water. The base line for government is to protect its citizens. My first thing is can we prove it’s safe?”Barrett also supported a moratorium on fracking and agreed that safety is the main priority when deciding if it is the right choice for the state. Barrett said that a county may decide if it is right for an area, but that municipalities should have the choice to say whether they want it in their community. Clean energy Clean energy was also addressed, and what role, if any, state government should play in the promotion of clean energy alternatives.Barrett said that creating credits around retrofitting homes could not only help the environment but also create local jobs for the construction industry. During the rebuttal Wager said that he agreed, but said programs for retrofitting homes have already gone through the state. State budget Another question dealt with the budget, and how the candidates would address the preparation of the budget for New York state, specifically focusing on pension reform and the modification of future state pension plans as proposed by Governor Cuomo.Wager said he agrees with the governor’s proposal, which gives smaller pensions to new workers.“The pension issue should be brought to the front burner before anything else,” said Wager. “Pensions are exploding right now at the local level. It’s affecting the way town supervisors are able to run their towns. Basically the decisions being made are what do I have to cut in order to pay these pensions.”“I think we need to look at other sources of savings when we are looking at this budget,” said Barrett. “One of the major ones is mandate relief. Our municipalities and our schools are being saddled by the state government.”Barrett said she is pleased that Cuomo is committed to having Medicaid be taken over by the state rather than having the municipalities have to deal with it.“There are a lot of other sources of funding that we can bring back to our communities and to our state budget without destroying the livelihoods and futures for a number of employees,” said Barrett. “I know that there is some abuse in the pension system but there are a lot of people who have worked very hard all their lives to pick jobs for the very fact that they have pensions.” Property tax cap The next question dealt with the 2 percent property tax cap. “I think we need to look at the kind of mandate relief that will truly give our municipalities an opportunity to budget within their means,” said Barrett. Wager said the 2 percent property tax cap was a great idea, however New York state spends more than other states.“What we really need is a 2 percent tax cap on the state level,” said Wager. “We keep going back to these mandates. If you go to Medicaid at the county level and pensions that’s swallowing up budgets.” Job promotion Morse asked about the role of state government in the promotion of jobs. Wager said the role of government is to set the standards for a great quality of life. He said there are many regulations that mean well for businesses, but New York state makes it difficult for some businesses to prosper with so many regulations.Barrett responded that Cuomo’s work on economic development was a great start. She also said she was optimistic for the future and wanted to see small business and middle-class families have an opportunity to get the loans they need to get their businesses going. Barrett also supported creatively using the region’s rich culture, history and farms as economic engines to create more jobs. Gas prices The next question dealt with prices of gas at the pump. Barrett said the state doesn’t have control over the price of gas and focused her response on alternative energy sources, stating she would love to see a transportation system in the area that runs on renewable energy. Wager said what we pay at the pump is a state issue, adding that New York state pays the second highest gas in the entire continental U.S. Wine in supermarkets The last question dealt with wine sales in supermarkets. The question stated the subject of wine sales in supermarkets and big box stores, which has been an issue before the state Legislature. Both candidates agreed on this issue and said they were fully against wine sales in big box stores. They expressed their support of local small businesses. By keeping wines sales in the local mom and pop stores they said it will strengthen the community.Morse then read questions from the public, which dealt with the candidates’ views on contraceptives, high fuel costs and the mortgage crisis. The debate was well attended and the Village Hall was packed with members of the community interested in the candidates’ opinions on the issues.