Connecticut has endured decades of advertising by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities warning that reductions in state financial grants to cities and towns will result in higher municipal property taxes. But throughout this time, despite ever-increasing state financial grants to municipalities, Connecticut somehow has gotten higher municipal property taxes anyway.
Maybe what Connecticut needs now is another statewide organization to advertise the truer and more relevant converse of the CCM ads. That is, increasing state financial aid to municipalities means higher state taxes — like last year’s record state tax increase, including increases in the state income tax and the sales tax, enacted in large part in the name of maintaining municipal aid and restraining municipal property taxes.
After all this tax raising in the name of not raising taxes, why should anyone pay attention to CCM anymore?
Most Connecticut residents who pay more in taxes than they consume in government services — that is, most people who are not employed by government or on welfare — are exploited either way. So they no longer may see the righteousness long presumed by CCM’s advertising, especially since municipalities are losing their reputation for being “closer to the people” and better guardians of the public purse than state government.
For example, last week the Meriden Record-Journal reported that the city has hired a police officer who receives a disability pension from Bridgeport, where he was an officer for 15 years before retiring on account of a knee injury. The injury having healed, the officer got his job in Meriden only to be injured in a criminal’s attack on him and two other officers. So now he’s collecting his Meriden salary on medical leave as well as his disability pension from Bridgeport.
This situation, the Record-Journal reported, appears to be a peculiarity of Bridgeport’s generous labor arrangements, which continue despite the city’s always claiming to be financially distressed and needing more help from state government. Meriden itself does not continue a disability pension for an officer who goes to work again.
Also last week the Waterbury Republican-American reported that the city’s police superintendent is retiring at the ripe old age of 47 after 25 years with the department and will claim an annual pension of $81,000, 70 percent of his salary, $116,000. The superintendent aims to keep working and may get a police job elsewhere. Like Bridgeport, Waterbury also is always described as financially distressed and is always a leading claimant for more state aid.
Because of the risk of injury in their work, police officers should have good benefits. But should they get disability pensions when they’re not disabled? Should retirement pensions worth maybe twice the average Connecticut resident’s salary be paid to police retirees who likely have another 15 years of comfortable employability?
CCM may reply that it continues to advocate weakening the state law requiring binding arbitration of public employee union contracts. But as always CCM’s advocacy here is vague and merely a formality.
Besides, as last week’s news reports involving Meriden, Bridgeport, and Waterbury show, despite binding arbitration, some municipalities try a lot harder to get value than others. Lacking a middle class independent of government, Bridgeport is in the grip of a parasitic Democratic Party machine, the city’s newspaper, the Connecticut Post, having reported in 2006 that 80 percent of the members of the city’s Democratic committee had city government jobs, a close relative on the city payroll, a city pension, or a city office.
Getting value for the public is seldom high on city government’s agenda in Connecticut, nor on CCM’s. No, the main objective is just to get more money without more accountability when it should be to get more value for less money.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn.