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Teachers Union, Local Leaders Speak Out Against Pension Cost-Shift Proposal

Teachers Union, Local Leaders Speak Out Against Pension Cost-Shift Proposal

Hartford Courant, April 20, 2017

By Kathleen Meegan

Teachers, union leaders, and local officials voiced their vehement opposition Tuesday to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's proposal to shift one third of teachers pension costs — $400 million — to cities and towns.

Malloy's plan is part of his efforts to close the state's $1.7 billion deficit. If pension costs are shifted as the governor has proposed, city and town leaders say they will have no choice but to increase property taxes.

To back up their position against any cost shift, the group also released a poll — funded by the Connecticut Education Association and the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities — that showed that of 600 residents surveyed, 72 percent oppose using local property taxes to balance the state budget and reduce the state deficit.

"The public wants honest, fair, sustainable solutions to the state's budget crisis, not increased property taxes," said Mark Waxenberg, executive director of the CEA at a news conference at town hall. "Residents want the state to pay its own bills, not transfer another financial burden onto property taxpayers, and they won't support legislators who don't fight back against this plan."

Kelly Donnelly, Malloy's spokeswoman, called the opposition "a plea to maintain the status quo and continue to spend money that the state doesn't have."

Malloy has made it clear, Donnelly said, that he will not "entertain a budget that falls short of making the level of systemic change necessary for the state's long-term prosperity."

Mayor Shari Cantor said she understands that the state is in a difficult situation, "but this is a dramatic shift in a liability that is increasing at an incredible rate. West Hartford would have an $8 million liability immediately imposed upon it."

The town has already made every cut it can, Cantor said, and if property taxes go up, it will drive out retirees and prevent young professionals from finding affordable rents.

"It will drive people out of the state. It will surely drive people out of town," Cantor said. "I'm really concerned this will be a game-changer in the future of the state of Connecticut."

Property tax hikes would come back to top

Joe DeLong, executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said the cost shift would "force both big increases in property taxes and deep cuts in critical municipal services."

The proposed cost shift, he said, "continues the failed policies that we've had here in Connecticut for years, taking the things that we can't afford, can't figure out how to pay and just shifting them to a property tax system that we're already over-reliant on."

Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, warned that a cost shift could lead to cutbacks in school programs that are not mandated such as all-day kindergarten and support services for students who don't qualify for special education.

No one at the news conference, which included representatives of the Connecticut Coalition for Public Education, a group that includes seven education-related associations, offered an alternative plan but many said they believe one can be developed.

Sen. Beth Bye D-West Hartford and vice-co-chairwoman of the legislature's education committee said of the proposed cost shift: "This is not the answer. I don't have the exact ... solution, but if you've been following finance, there are other things" that can be done.

Waxenberg said the parties involved need to sit down with state leaders and discuss possible solutions.

Waxenberg stopped short of saying whether a long-range plan that gradually shifts some of the costs to cities and towns would be reasonable.

Most states use Social Security for teacher pensions, Waxenberg noted. Connecticut is one of 14 states that fund pensions, and one of only three states that do not pass pension costs on to cities and towns.