Lawmakers Offer Solution For Retired Teachers Health Fund [CT News Junkie]

March 27, 2012

Article as it appeared on the CT News Junkie website on March 27, 2012
By Christine Stuart

Republican lawmakers are standing up for retired teachers and asking the co-chairs of the Appropriations Committee to restore $7.6 million in funding to the Teachers Retirement Board Health Fund.

Currently the state pays one-third of the health care costs for retired teachers, active teachers pay one-third, and the retiree pays one-third. But a bill proposed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy reduces the state’s share from 33 percent to 25 percent and shifts the additional cost to the retiree bringing their portion up to 42 percent.

Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, said balancing the budget on the “backs of retired teachers is unconscionable.”

The cut will increase retired teachers’ premiums by about $35 per month, per teacher. Many are already paying between $500 to $1,000 per month for their insurance and many live on very modest pensions, according to the Association of Retired Teachers of Connecticut. The $110 per month they receive from the fund helps defray the cost of their insurance.

Retired teachers turned out earlier this month for a public hearing on the bill and expressed their disappointment to members of Appropriations Committee.

“It is simply not fair to change the rules in the middle of the game for retirees who live on a fixed income,” Witkos said. “I didn’t think that was right, but I also didn’t think it was right to demean and bemoan the fact that we have a bill of $7.6 million.”

Instead of whining about a budget cut, Witkos, Sen. Leonard Fasano, R-North Haven, and Sen. Tony Guglielmo, R-Stafford Springs, suggested the co-chairs of the Appropriations Committee find the money in a handful of other accounts.

He suggested the state could find about $4 million in a statewide marketing account, more than $6 million in an Interdistrict Cooperation Competitive grant program, and another $4 million could be saved, if the state outsourced food service for Correctional inmates for six months.

“There would be nothing more fundamentally unfair than to change the rules after the fact,” Guglielmo told a group of retired teachers gathered for the press conference.

Malloy, who proposed the bill, didn’t necessarily disagree when asked about the budget cut at a wide-ranging press conference Tuesday afternoon.

Malloy said he proposed the bill because he wanted to prompt a discussion about the issue. He said local school districts have cut back on their post-employment benefits and many teachers are now looking to the state for most of their retirement benefits.

“The state is being required to spend a lot more money in this area and municipalities are saving a lot more money in this area and we needed to have a discussion about that and how far that goes,” Malloy said. “But I’ve made it very clear we’re open to all kinds of ideas on that.”

Malloy said his administration has made it clear they’re happy to deal with it in any number of different ways.

“I don’t have an argument with them, we just need a way to resolve it,” he said.

Witkos said he’s optimistic about Democratic support for any attempts to restore the funding. The state’s two teacher unions also support restoring the funding because their current members contribute a portion of their salaries to the fund.

Roz Schoonmaker, a member of the Teachers’ Retirement Board, said the subsidy the state currently pays is a lifeline to retired teachers.

Without it the 81-year-old said she will be faced with tough choices such as buying her prescriptions or heating her home.

“I beg you vote against this increase,” Schoonmaker said told the Appropriations Committee earlier this month.

This is the only government sponsored plan available to retired teachers unless they have a spouse who qualifies for Medicare.