Time to heed GOP’s ideas

February 8, 2016

Waterbury Republican-American Editorial, Feb. 7

Connecticut’s Democratic legislative leaders — most notably, House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey of Hamden, Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney of New Haven and House Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee Chairman Jeffrey J. Berger of Waterbury — have portrayed Republican legislators as finger-pointers with no solutions to Connecticut’s fiscal crisis.

To the contrary, Republicans have offered worthy ideas since Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy took office in 2011. With Gov. Malloy seemingly open to all reform proposals, one can hope aspects of the GOP’s new plan will take effect.

Ahead of the 2011-13 biennium, the Republican caucuses, led by then-Sen. John P. McKinney of Fairfield and then-Rep. Lawrence F. Cafero Jr. of Norwalk, proposed a budget geared toward reducing spending and downsizing the state workforce. It went nowhere as Gov. Malloy and Democratic lawmakers negotiated the final budget. In 2012, the GOP outlined steps to control spending and borrowing over the long term. It, too, was dead on arrival.

Going into the 2015-17 biennium, Republicans, led by Sen. Leonard A. Fasano of North Haven and Rep. Themis Klarides of Derby, proposed another budget.

Writing to the Republican-American last May 5, Sen. Fasano and Sen. Robert J. Kane, R-Watertown, noted “the budget highlights our Republican priorities by protecting Connecticut’s most vulnerable residents: the elderly, the disabled, our children and our veterans; cutting taxes; cutting government spending; capping state bonding; consolidating state agencies; and calling for nearly $500 million in labor savings and state employee overtime reductions.”

Republicans again were kept out of budget negotiations. The budget Gov. Malloy and Democrats approved was heavy on taxes, spending, gimmickry and overreliance on unreliable revenue sources. The results were not pretty.

Before the legislature reconvened Feb. 3, Sen. Fasano, Rep. Klarides and their caucuses proposed yet another package to ensure Connecticut’s long-term financial health. Many provisions are worthy of adoption. Among them are the removal of overtime from pension calculations; requiring all state employees to contribute 4 percent of their pay toward their pensions; capping cost-of-living adjustments at 3 percent; and transitioning state employees to defined-contribution retirement plans.

Reforms of this nature are needed. Connecticut’s retirement system long has been overgenerous and unaffordable. In 2014, The (New London) Day reported, “Retired Connecticut state employees received the highest annual pensions in the country in 2011, despite contributing less out of their paychecks than the national average.” Workers’ benefits are among the best in the Northeast. This is not likely to help the state attract the business and industry it desperately needs. Speaking of which, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that as of 2013, only 18 percent of private-sector workers had traditional pension plans, compared with 78 percent of government workers.

To enact the GOP proposals, the state will have to renegotiate deals signed by Gov. Malloy and former Gov. John G. Rowland with employee unions that prohibit changes to pension (and health care) benefits before 2022. Union leaders are whining, but if labor ally Gov. Malloy gets onboard, the unions may come to the table. Based on his Feb. 3 State of the State address, the governor may go along.

Speaker Sharkey, Sen. Looney and Rep. Berger can spin all they want, but Republicans are demonstrably serious about fixing Connecticut’s budget woes. Hopefully, something will get done. Rep. Berger’s solution was keno.