Sen. Fasano Statement on Disability Deal

August 7, 2015

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano (R-North Haven) today released the following statement regarding the recently announced agreement between state unions and the Malloy administration on a new eligibility standard for disability pensions.

“In response to a whistleblower complaint detailing a state employee retirement system rife with political bias, the state auditors issued a report finding that the state wasted taxpayer dollars and made “millions of dollars of payments to retirees who were no longer entitled to a disability retirement.”

“For over two and a half years, the Retirement Division failed to conduct statutorily required disability reviews to ensure that state employees receiving disability retirement benefits were in fact disabled and entitled to such benefits. The Auditors’ report noted that “there are currently over 500 retirees who have been receiving disability retirement benefits for over two and a half years and have not had a 24-month review for continued entitlement, including 164 who have been receiving such benefits for over four years” with no review. The auditors recommended that the legislature amend the state statute containing the disability standard to resolve the issue and clarify its intent.

“Untold millions of taxpayer dollars have already flown out the door in unwarranted disability benefits for ineligible state government retirees. Now, Gov. Malloy has handed over rule-making authority to state employee unions and said, ‘Ok, go ahead and write your own eligibility standards.’

“Can you say ‘conflict of interest’?

“This is a matter of state statute and legislative and regulatory authority. State statute establishes the disability standard and the Retirement Commission is responsible for administering that statute. SEBAC has no authority to draft or approve administrative rules or interpret state statutes. This should have been done through proper administrative rule-making with opportunity for public comment and legislative oversight. It should not be subject to the approval of an interested party.

“Imagine if there were a question regarding the application of an environmental statute and DEEP told CBIA to go write the regulation. The public and policy makers would rightly be outraged.

“This is another secret deal negotiated in the dark and is a bad joke on Connecticut taxpayers. It’s emblematic of how skewed our system has become. Special interests win, while taxpayers and voters lose.

“If the administration and SEBAC want to negotiate an amendment to the existing collective bargaining agreement to address this issue, they can do that, but again, there is a process for such agreements. That process includes submitting the agreement to the legislature and no such agreement could go into effect until the next legislative session.

“By colluding to avoid any public accountability or legislative oversight, the administration has improperly ceded legislative and administrative authority to SEBAC and usurped the legislature’s role in direct contradiction to the auditors’ recommendations.

“By doing so on a matter that directly implicates millions of dollars in taxpayer financed benefits and the state’s long term financial health, the administration has once again thumbed its nose at Connecticut taxpayers.

“This is an opportunity for Comptroller Lembo to stand tall on behalf of taxpayers. I urge him to read the deal’s permissive language closely. It will be interesting to see his conclusions.

“I also urge the Retirement Commission to review this matter closely. To simply accept a deal negotiated in the dark with a self-interested party when it could result in otherwise improper disability payments being made would be an abdication of their duty to administer the retirement system in accordance with state statute and a breach of their fiduciary duty to administer the system with “care, skill, prudence and diligence” in order to preserve is financial soundness.

“I also urge Democrat leadership in the state legislature to stand up to Gov. Malloy. Will they stand for being cut out of the process? Will they put up with the governor telling them their input is not needed on an issue that has major state budget implications?

“Democrats will likely not want to touch this issue with a ten-foot pole, but it is not something that is going away. Republicans will put forth legislation next year to reform the disability pensions system.

“Gov. Malloy can try his best, but he won’t silence us. Republicans will not allow Connecticut taxpayers to be disrespected as their money gets wasted time and time again in our one-party-rule state.”