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Comfortable Pension Cronyism in the Capitol

Once again, the government class in Hartford is looking after its own.

In the wake of the governor’s nomination of two new 66-year-old judges (along with some other nominees in their sixties), there was some well-deserved bipartisan outrage.  That’s because, in under four years, those two judges would enter mandatory retirement at the age of 70 — thereby becoming instantly eligible for lifetime pensions exceeding $100,000 a year, with annual cost-of-living increases and lifelong state health benefits.  Your tax dollars at work! 

Legislation spearheaded by a freshman Democratic senator from Meriden seemed to address the problem with a modicum of sense.  For judges who would have served fewer than ten years on the bench at the time of retirement, their full pensions would be multiplied by a fraction putting the number of years as judge over 10.  Serve six years, for example, get 60% of one’s $100,000 pension — or $60,000.  Still pretty generous — courtesy of taxpayer money! — by the standards of the private sector.

But after secret negotiations, the story changed.  Now, after an amendment conveniently inserted into a gigantic state budget-implementation bill, judges don’t need ten years of judicial service in order to reap the $100,000 pension . . . they simply need ten years of state service altogether.  Now, years spent as a legislator (where pensions are lower) now count toward earning a (much higher) judicial pension.  How very convenient.

It’s not hard to figure out how this change could lead to abuses.  If state legislators (or other state employees) could manage to get themselves appointed as a judge for even a year, they could, voila!, suddenly upgrade to the top-dollar judicial pension.

No wonder some gubernatorial candidates are objecting.

The way the “reform” is now structured, the only sixty-something judicial appointees who will be adversely impacted by it are — no surprise! — those from the private sector.

Somehow, the government always manages to look after its own.  The state legislators who support this change certainly have.

And so ends a new chapter in the story of the Connecticut state employees’ pension system — one of the most generous in the nation. . . and one of the most underfunded, 


Carol Platt Liebau

Carol has worked as an attorney, author, political and policy advisor, and media commentator. In addition to practicing law, she has served as legislative assistant to Senator Christopher S. “Kit” Bond of Missouri; as a consultant to the U.S. Senate campaigns of John D. Ashcroft of Missouri (1994) and Congressman Tom Campbell of California (2000 and 2010); and as law clerk to Reagan appointee Judge David B. Sentelle of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.

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