This year we’ve tried to shine a light on Connecticut’s bonded debt, as well as our pension and retiree healthcare liabilities. When all of this debt is combined, Connecticut is one of the most indebted states in the nation. A new report by J.P. Morgan’s Michael Cembalest provides additional clarity.
The traditional image of the union member as being a working class, blue collar factory worker has been replaced by a new reality: the state-employed bureaucrat enjoying perks and high pay at taxpayer expense. Figures show that six in 10 union members work for government. While some of them plow roads and keep us safe, many more are social workers, white-collar administrators and highly paid professors. Connecticut ranks fourth in the nation for the number of union members who work for government after only New York, Rhode Island and New Jersey.
Connecticut suffers from an approach to public policy that’s laser-focused on today’s urgent problems, while leaving tomorrow’s important challenges unaddressed. With lawmakers yet again cobbling together a budget at the last minute, time grows increasingly short to change the trajectory of our struggling state. A common sense approach to restoring Connecticut’s vitality should help us.
The line item for state employee pensions is one of the fastest-growing items in the state budget. This year, the state will contribute $1.5 billion - almost ten percent of the General Fund - to the state employee pension fund, which still won’t be enough to put a dent in the unfunded liabilities. According to new information released by the Yankee Institute on its website CTSunlight.org, 885 retirees received pensions over $100,000 in 2015 -- including 12 who earned pensions over $200,000 a year.
Connecticut lawmakers face high legal hurdles if they want to reform health benefits for retired state workers, according to a new study from the Manhattan Institute. A 2002 Connecticut Supreme Court decision set the precedent, ruling that retiree health benefits could not be changed when a collective bargaining contract ends. However, this precedent contradicts a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
Several state union representatives spent more than half of the year working for their unions while still getting paid by the state, driving up overtime costs and putting an extra burden on the state budget. The year of 2015 contained 261 working days but Ronald J. McLellan, president of the Connecticut Employees Union Independent SEIU local 511, spent 201 of those days on union leave. He earned $111,000 in pay and fringe benefits from the state while working for the union, and continued to keep his title of lead power plant operator at Central Connecticut State University.