Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Office Of Fiscal Analysis To Malloy: Your Budget Doesn’t Compute

The guys and gals who work at the Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA) are the “go to” people for legislators who do not carry an Encyclopedia Britannica around in their heads. Throw some number on the floor before them and they can tell you if the numbers are accurate or fictional. Even on a bad day, they can tell you how many angels fit on the head of a pin. And in our statistical age, when every “non-partisan” agency is connected at the hip to fiercely partisan politicians, the OFA is genuinely non-partisan -- in the way that math or water is non-partisan.

Having examined the estimated savings in the Governor Dannel Malloy-SEBAC budget, the OFA has found that 60% of the savings claims made therein are UNVERIFIABLE.

The bad news was brought to the attention of the general public by Keith Phaneuf of CTMirror:

“Nonpartisan legislative analysts say they can vouch for less than 40 percent of the $1.6 billion in labor savings figured into the next biennial budget, and are unable to assess the rest--more than $1 billion--because of unanswered questions or insufficient data, according to a memo submitted late Monday to the General Assembly.”

Not to worry, say the epigones of transparency in the Malloy administration and their Democratic chorus in the General Assembly, the savings are real. The Malloy administration paid a good chunk of cash to an actuarial consulting firm outside of state government – perhaps the first and last time the Malloy administration will outsource state business – to produce the figures they needed to show a balanced budget.

Then the massive budget documentation was dumped on the doorstep of the ladies and gents at the OFA for verification. No dice, said the OFA: “Please note that at this time we are unable to determine or verify the levels that are contained in these estimates in many cases," OFA Director Alan Calandro wrote in a memo to Republican House leader Larry Cafero.

No actuarial analysis had been offered to OFA to support a contention that $67 million would be saved by increasing penalties for senior employees who retire earlier than the normal age; OFA could not determine from the figures provided to them how much would be saved by a new hybrid retirement plan for higher education employees; the Malloy administration had not provided to OFA their assumptions in support of a claim that health care provision would save the state $245.9 million in two years; the OFA lacked documentation to support a claim made by the Malloy administration that a new Health Enhancement Program would reduce health care claims by 4 percent in the first year and 10 percent in the second; OFA intimated that the new health care plan, which relies on preventative services, might increase costs, figures not provided in the administration’s savings estimates. The OFA Memo to Cafero goes on and on, piling up doubtful “savings.”.

The OFA’s aspersions are regarded by Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes as a “delaying tactic” to prevent speedy approval of the Malloy-Williams-Donovan-SEBAC budget. Mr. Barnes has acknowledged that some savings targets amounting to $345 million were of necessity poorly defined. The OFA could not affirm such savings because “information as to how savings were estimated has not been provided."

The OFA’s inability to verify the cost savings in the Malloy budget has not disturbed the  equanimity of Senior Malloy advisor Roy Occhiogrosso, who said, despite the OFA’s misgivings, that the Malloy administration and the unions were “confident in the numbers.” But then Mr. Occhiogrosso’s confidence is unbounded – even when he is told by Mr. Malloy’s OPM Director that $345 million of the reputed savings boosting his confidence is questionable.

The budget itself rests upon $1.6 billion in union givebacks that will not be given back until the budget has been passed by the union dependent Democratic Party cohort in the General Assembly, whose confidence matches that of Mr. Occhiogrosso.

This year’s $40 billion two year budget has a novel twist to it: The budget is pre-approved, which means the General Assembly will pass a bill that rests on unassured, assumed savings: Union have not yet approved contracts that include expected givebacks of $1.6 billion.

Following seven hours of debate, Republican Senator Andrew Roraback, a 17 year veteran of the General Assembly, offered an amendment requiring the Democratic dominated legislature to return in special session to vote on the SEBAC agreement. Addressing Lieutenant governor Nancy Wyman, Mr. Roraback said:

“It doesn't feel right, Madam President. If this bill passes, we will all drive blindly into the night, asking ourselves, 'What was it that we just did?'… I can't ever remember a time in the history of this body when we have pre-approved a contract change. ... Yet, we're ratifying something that is in the ether. ... I have never before seen anything that remotely resembles the process of this bill. ... It is customary for the horse to come first and then the cart.''

Mr. Roraback’s amendment was defeated, and confident majority Democrats in the legislature promptly voted in favor of putting the cart before the horse.

ADDENDUM

June 9, 2011

Yankee institute investigative reporter Zach Janowski reports in Raising Hale:

“The actuarial estimates and other documents obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request show how the state will save $1 billion by implementing a union concession agreement negotiated by Gov. Dannel Malloy’s administration.

“However, the documents do not include support for the $1.6 billion total claimed by the administration.”

At first glance, it appears that the Malloy administration inflated the savings figures supplied to it by the actuarial firm, Milliman, the administration hired to account for the savings the Malloy administration hoped to realize.

“Internal documents from OPM confirm the value of the freezing wages is $448.4 million over two years.

“A May 12 memo from the actuarial firm Milliman supports $290.5 million in healthcare savings over two years, short of the $391.3 million claimed by the administration.

“Correspondence with actuarial firm Cavanaugh Macdonald confirms $279.8 million in pension savings over two years, $200 million less than the administration’s estimate of $485.2 million.”

Moreover, pension savings are not static and cannot be gauged by simply adding them up:

"Each change has the potential to reduce the value of the other changes. For example, a wage freeze reduces the value of future benefits – and therefore the value of future savings.”

The figures used to support Mr. Malloy’s budget are not only soft; they may be rotten.
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