Connecticut union leaders turn to insults in critique of fiscal stability commission

Leaders of Connecticut’s public sector unions took a decidedly harsh tone in their critique of the Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth’s findings and recommendations, calling the panel of business executives “arrogant college freshmen who come home after a semester and think they have all the answers to the world’s problems.”

The commission — made up of some of Connecticut’s most influential CEO’s and business leaders — examined the issues facing Connecticut and made a series of recommendations to get Connecticut on the path to fiscal stability and economic growth.

The panel’s recommendations included a mixed bag of changes, such as reforming Connecticut’s tax structure, reforming its pensions, installing tolls on highways, and raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

The commission said their recommendations must be voted on as a comprehensive package and the legislature is holding a rare public hearing on House floor Friday to hear public response to the commission’s findings.

Commission chairs Bob Patricelli, founder of Women’s Health USA, and Jim Smith, former CEO of Webster Bank, acknowledged that nearly everyone would find something to like and dislike in their report, and a number of groups issued press releases to that effect.

But labor leaders took their opposition to another level, releasing a 15 page report refuting the commission’s findings, calling the commission members “arrogant freshmen” throughout and claiming the commission was “misleading” the public and lacked courage.

“But for this CEO-dominated group of mostly rookies in public finance, government, labor relations and democratic decision-making, these principles, like the mission the General Assembly gave it, was just too hard an assignment,” the labor report read. “This arrogance is one of the reasons for the Report’s failure.”

Claiming the commission’s analysis was not based on “science,” the authors argued Connecticut is not losing population or wealthy residents due to its tax burden, tax cuts for businesses would not spur economic growth, and Connecticut’s pensions should not be set legislatively like nearly every other state.

Connecticut’s unfunded retirement benefits are one of the biggest challenges facing the state. The unfunded pension liabilities and other post employment benefits threaten to crowd out other state services, something the commission discussed at length.

The commission recommended setting retirement benefits in statute after 2027 when the current SEBAC contract expires. Under current law, union leaders negotiate those benefits with the governor in closed door talks. The legislature can then vote to approve the deal.

“The Commission’s recommendation would mean the State’s word means nothing, since without collective bargaining the State could change benefits already earned by active employees – even days before retirement. That means you rely upon our promise of a pension at your peril,” the authors wrote.

In their report, labor leaders lamented the fact that there was no labor representative on the panel, even though AFSCME employee and Speaker of the House, Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, was able to appoint a commission member.

But the bad blood between union leaders and the commission began earlier in the year, when Connecticut AFL-CIO President Lori Pelletier wrote an op-ed saying the commission was anti-labor. She followed up the op-ed with quotes in CT Mirror asking why labor leaders hadn’t been invited to testify before the commission.

Pelletier and her colleagues — most of whom authored labor’s recent report — did eventually testify before the commission.

Although the government union leaders’ report is highly critical of the commission, they did support the commission’s recommendation to install tolls on highways and raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

The leaders of Connecticut’s public sector unions said Connecticut must take “the high road, not the low road, to economic growth.”

Their high road recommendations included raising the minimum wage, charging a fee to employers whose employees receive state assistance, raise taxes on business and allow municipal workers to form a bargaining agent coalition similar to SEBAC.

Patricelli and Smith responded, saying they were “disappointed public sector labor leaders are taking this aggressively negative position.”

The labor report was authored by President of Connecticut AFL-CIO Lori Pelletier, Executive Director of AFSCME Council 4 Sal Luciano, President of AFT Connecticut Jan Hochadel, President of UConn-AAUP Thomas Bontly, and SEBAC’s chief negotiator Dan Livingston.

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