Connecticut’s Middle Class Endure Sisyphus-like Punishment
Connecticut Post, May 29, 2019
by Joe DeLong, CCM Executive Director
Sisyphus, a cruel Greek king, was punished for eternity by having to push a large rock up a steep hill, only to find it rolling back when nearing the top.
While Sisyphus is a mythological character, Connecticut’s maligned middle class continue to live the same plight.
Year after year, and more importantly state election after state election, middle class taxpayers and small business owners search with relentless hope for reformers who will put our resource rich state back on a path to economic prosperity.
This hope is fostered when candidates for Governor and the General Assembly speak of things such as reducing property taxes, controlling state spending and implementing needed structural reforms. Unfortunately, these campaign promises are rarely if ever the focus of policymakers once session commences.
Our state Government is not one without priorities. If you’re a billionaire there are many powerful elected officials who work tirelessly on your behalf. Conversely, public sector employees enjoy a multitude of elected representatives eager to preserve and enhance every possible entitlement. These absolutes persevere while everyone who falls somewhere else on the socioeconomic spectrum continues to get engulfed under the weight of the rock.
Setting aside the issues that gather the most attention – tolls, tax increases, minimum wage, paid family leave, marijuana and gambling, it is remarkable when you look behind the curtain at other policies working their way toward passage, and those that should be implemented but, to this point have gone nowhere.
Pension Offsets: While other states have worked to close loopholes that unintentionally allowed for additional retirement benefits (double-dipping), Connecticut lawmakers appear poised to specifically enact legislation that would restrict a municipality’s ability to offset permanent partial disability benefit payments against regular pension benefit payments. As an example, this proposal would currently cost Waterbury alone over $300,000 more a year. The average income for a resident of Waterbury is just over $21,000. Many lawmakers appear to have no concerns with the residents of Waterbury picking up the bill for this extra entitlement that will be handed out to elite special interests.
Opportunities lost back to top
Apparent Lost Opportunities:
Minimum Budget Requirement (MBR): State officials often admonish municipalities to be more efficient. They fail to mention, however that towns and cities are prohibited by state law to make any reductions in what typically amounts to roughly 70% or more of the local budget expenditure. The MBR statutorily requires towns and cities to spend at least as much on public education as was spent the year prior. Modest changes to the MBR could bring significant return without jeopardizing education quality. For example,if a town enters into a lower cost contract to provide busing services, the town should be able to reduce its budget expenditure by the amount of the savings. If a town has high cost special needs children who age out or move out of the district, the town should not have to continue to budget expenditures for these kids who are no longer in the system.
Municipal Employee Retirement System Reform (MERS): Years ago state policymakers recognized the state’s retirement system was unsustainable. In order to craft a more manageable system the state made modifications to the state system by creating new tiers for new employees. Each time the state made a modification to the state plan, it neglected to modify the municipal plans, forcing local property taxpayers pay the tab for inflated and unmanageable local pensions. In order to bring parody to the retirement systems the state could and should create a second tier to MERS. This tier would provide for new municipal hires to enter into a retirement system that is the same as the retirement system new state employees are hired into.
Coalition Bargaining: Connecticut has a deep rooted commitment to collective bargaining for public employees. However, inherent challenges exist that drive up costs without benefiting workers. When a community and a bargaining unit representing 3 to 5 people enter into health care discussions, the plan options become limited and very costly. Both municipal and labor leaders have stated that there could be better plans at a lower cost if all bargaining units within a community or region were bargaining collectively. However, it appears that efforts to promote coalition bargaining in order to streamline services and reduce costs are once again of little to no interest to many state policy makers.
So while the battle lines at the state Capitol appear to be drawn between those who call the state’s wealthiest residents their base and those who consider their base to be the public sector unions, everyone else should brace yourself. With new entitlement programs like pension double-dipping on the horizon and common sense reforms struggling to gather state lawmaker’s interest, the weight of the rock is about to come barreling down the hill again.