Letter: Bipartisan structural solutions needed for Connecticut’s fiscal dilemma

To the Editor:
The recent editorial in the Darien Times on the fiscal crisis had the desired effect of bringing our Democratic state senators back to Darien, resulting in welcome discussions with school parents and taxpayers. The editorial was also successful in triggering a slew of responses from Darien Democrats; this allows us to learn from each other. Intentional or unintentional, these comments left the reader with the conclusion that the bickering must stop, and that the real issues must be addressed. Since these issues are structural in nature, they can only be solved in a bipartisan manner.
A first step in arriving at bipartisan solutions is to agree on the facts. As one of our great Democrats, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, said, “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts”.
From recent and previous letters in the Darien Times, there seems to be widespread agreement on two important facts; Connecticut is in a fiscal crisis; and outsized public sector employee compensations, in particular unexpectedly large pension costs, are the most important factor on the expenditure side. In addition, even the Governor admits that there is no more wiggle room on the revenue side.
It is an unfortunate fact that Governor Malloy in 2011 gave the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition almost everything the unions were looking for. The chief union negotiator, Dan Livingston, called it a great success and the envy of unions around the country. The savings that the Governor promised were never realized.
The governor all but ignored the structural proposal of the minority party. In January of 2011, the Republicans introduced “An Act Creating Parity Between State and Private Pension Plans” that aimed at true structural changes. The proposal included an “increase (in) employees’ contributions toward their pensions, calculates retirement income based on the five highest-paid years of state service rather than the three highest-paid years of state service, caps cost-of-living adjustments at lower levels, creates a defined contribution plan for new state employees, increases the retirement age for state employees and eliminates longevity payment amounts and overtime from the pension calculation formula.”
Unfortunately this important bill died in the Appropriations Committee in 2011, as did a second similar effort the next year. In addition, in the budget discussions of the following years, the Republican Caucus was denied a seat at the table. Many sensible details in the minority party’s’ alternative budgets were ignored.
You do not need to be an actuarial expert to recognize the fact that the missed opportunity of the proposed 2011 structural changes is the main reason for our current fiscal dilemma, and that we still need similar changes now. The Governor’s current solution to off-load the fiscal problems from the State to the 169 municipalities amounts to “pretend and extend” and is not a structural solution. The Governor needs to reach out to Republicans and fiscally conservative Democrats to establish a new bi-partisan coalition that represents all constituents, in particular school parents and taxpayers.
 

Bert von Stuelpnagel

The writer is a member of Darien’s Republican Town Committee