The CTMirror story begins with a potent image of pending disaster: “Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced a deal Friday with state employee unions that would allow Connecticut to dodge a fiscal iceberg by holding down annual pension costs otherwise set to spike over the next 16 years.”
“Iceberg sighted, full speed ahead,” cries captain Malloy, who has skippered Connecticut’s ship of state for nearly five years. The state’s unpopular governor, approval rating 24 percent, is up for re-election in 2018.
“But to get that relief,” CTMirror adds, “Connecticut would shift at least $13.8 billion in estimated pension expenses owed before 2032 onto a future generation.
“Under the deal, the state still would pay hefty pension bills for the next 16 years, with annual costs rising from $1.6 billion to $2.2 billion over that period. But pension expenses that were supposed to drop as low as $300 million per year after 2032 would hover close to $1.7 billion in the 2030s and 2040s.”
And then follows the tolling of Connecticut’s death knell: “The plan does not affect benefit levels for current or future retirees, nor does it change workers’ pension contributions.”
Did Mr. Malloy get together with his union honchos to have lunch over the nearly prostrate body of his state? No one will ever know. Contract negotiations between union heads and Connecticut governors are conducted in private formerly smoke-filled rooms inaccessible to a) opposition party leaders, b) the tribunes of the people, who are permitted to report broadly only on final deals -- after all the special interests have been sated, and c) any other citizen group that may be considered as representing the public interest. Occasionally, a rumor may seep through the castle walls and, more rarely, revealing emails exchanged during the private disposition of the public’s business may leech out during a legal dispute. But generally, it is in the interest of private interests to maintain privacy and limit public exposure, the disinfecting sunlight that explodes the schemes of those who use political means to attain ends that do not serve the general good.
If there is a single person in Connecticut who does not know at this late date that the benefits and costs of labor for public employees must be reduced, he should be stripped of his citizen’s rights and exiled. If the private arrangement between Mr. Malloy and state employee union leaders does not affect benefit levels for current or future state employees and does not change workers’ pension contributions, it should properly be regarded as a surrender document.
In passing on to a future generation the pain involved in settling a longstanding political problem – kowtowing to special interests, Connecticut has in the past refused to disappoint the representatives of the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition SEBAC, the union conglomerate authorized to form contracts with the Governor, or reduce the cost of labor that consistently has thrown Connecticut’s budgets out of whack – the state should frankly acknowledge that union interests, inextricably intertwined with successful Democratic campaigns waged against the public interest, take precedence over the economic health and longevity of Connecticut.
Here and there during the past decade, a pleading voice reaches the general public from under the rubble. Last week in New Haven, two business leaders ran their fingers over the state's wounds during The Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce’s Regional Economic Outlook Breakfast at the New Haven Lawn Club.
Eric Schultz, chief executive officer of Harvard Pilgrim, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit health insurance provider noted that Connecticut is the fourth most expensive state in the country in which to provide health care. And chief investment officer for Bridgeport-based People’s United, John Traynor, speaking in dulcet tones, noted a slight – very slight – uptick in job production in the state, and then added, “Connecticut has lost higher paying jobs, and they are being replaced by lower skilled, lower paying jobs.” Then he dropped the hammer, according to an account in the New Haven Register: “’You work for Governor Malloy until May 21,’ he said, referring how many weeks’ wages in a year it takes for the average worker to pay off his state tax burden. ‘We used to call them [Massachusetts] “Taxachusetts.” But then they said, ‘Connecticut, we’re coming after you and your businesses. And Massachusetts is now ranked 27th in the country in taxes and we are ranked 50th,’” the worst ranking in the United States.
So then, while Connecticut is scraping the bottom of the barrel, Mr. Malloy is carving out a deal with state unions that is, to put it in the plainest of possible terms, a non-solution that pushes off debt to future debt holders, which is a little bit like moving the iceberg fifty feet beyond where it was first sighted and signaling to the hapless passengers of the Titanic that there will be no future catastrophe. State Comptroller Kevin Lembo, who has been coy on the question of a future run for governor, is on board with the plan.