Teacher pension costs should not be transferred from the state to towns and cities, according to state Rep. John Frey, who says he and like-minded legislators are prepared to fight the administration of Gov. Ned Lamont on the proposal — and a host of other financial issues, from car taxes to licensing cats.
“There is a tremendous amount of opposition to shifting the state’s mismanagement of teachers retirement costs to the towns,” said Frey, a veteran Republican legislator representing the 111th District, made up of nearly all of Ridgefield.
“…I am unequivocally opposed to Gov. Lamont’s plan — as I was Gov. Malloy’s — to put that on the towns,” Frey said.
Lamont’s proposal would be less-ambitious — and less costly for towns — than one previously floated by ex-Gov. Malloy, which had been widely opposed. But both Democratic governors sought to have towns and cities share some of the state’s teacher pension obligations, which have been underfunded for years. And both proposals would hit towns — and local taxpayers — with added expenses.
The cost-sharing and tax proposals come as state is facing a fiscal hole that Frey said legislators of both parties regard as about $1.3 billion for the 2019-20 fiscal year, rising to $1.8 billion for 2020-21.
Frey expressed his disagreement with an assessment First Selectman Rudy Marconi had shared with fellow selectmen Wednesday night, March 6, after testifying in Hartford in his new role as head of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns (COST). Marconi had said that there wasn’t a great deal of opposition in the capital to Gov. Lamont’s proposal to have towns share in the cost of straightening out the state’s under-funded teacher pension program.
The heated debate in Hartford over school regionalization proposals had shifted attention away from issues such as the pension costs, Marconi had said.
“Wrong, wrong, wrong,” Frey said of this assessment.
During their March 6 budget discussion, Marconi had shared with the Board of Selectmen hand-outs projecting that based on Ridgefield schools’ $43.6 million in “pensionable salary” for 469 certified employees— and its average teacher salary of $93,000, 18% above the state median — the town could be hit with escalating pension-sharing costs: $458,602 in 2019-20; $947,057 in 2020-21, and $1,435,512 in 2021-22.
Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark said the state should work with employee unions on reducing long-term pension obligations, not just sharing the cost.
“We need to get them to fix the problem before we start paying these giant numbers,” she said.
The selectmen also worried about proposals to have the state claim automobile taxes that currently go to towns, which would mean about $8.1 million in lost revenue for Ridgefield, by Marconi’s calculations.
Rep. Frey told The Press he’s casting a skeptical eye on a whole array of tax increases and efforts to rope municipalities into helping dig the state out of its fiscal hole — such as changing the levels of Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) revenue passed on to towns, like Ridgefield.
“When you factor teachers’ retirement, automobile tax, reducing ECS — the cost to the town budget could require a 10% increase in the mill rate,” Frey said. “Then add tolls, additional sales taxes, statewide one-mill property tax — it is a potential disaster and not one lost on me or most of my colleagues.
“And the list continues,” Frey added “… on Monday, there’s a public hearing before the Environment Committee to license cats and other domestic animals [guinea pigs, bunnies, ferrets, etc.] as we do dogs There are estimated to be 5,800 cats in Ridgefield.”