GOP View: State needs fiscal order

COVID-19 is continuing to place added stress on badly managed Connecticut State finances, already contributing to making it economically unattractive for businesses and people. The current unemployment rate, a monthly released figure, was 14.7% in April, and the CT Labor Commissioner estimated it to be over 20% for the State.

An enormous contributor to the State’s financial problems is the $100 billion of unfunded liabilities for pension and teacher health care obligations, or $27,400 per resident. According to a JP Morgan Chase study a year ago, Connecticut needs to utilize 35% of its total State tax revenue over the next 30 years, instead of the 23% at present, to fund these obligations.

While recently the State added a lower cost defined contribution 403(b) plan to its defined benefit pension plan, the latter portion is a negligible part of the total. Private company pension plans are legally required to be properly actuarially funded, but state plans not so, and our state is proportionately among the worst. Moreover, recent investment returns in the pension plan, a vital component to prevent deeper insolvency, have been 5.7%, but returns may fall well below that level in the future. The answer is: Go forward only with 403(b)s, as Ridgefield and other towns have done, while allocating more State funds to reduce the huge existing pension funding gap.

At the same time that individual finances are stretched, State workers are scheduled to receive another 3.5% salary increase July 1, in addition to the same percentage increase received last July, plus a 2% step increase. Salary increases need to be renegotiated. In a recent year, it was determined that median Connecticut State employee salaries and benefits exceed those of private sector individuals by 42%, the highest ratio for any state in the country. In addition, over 1,600 retirees collect pensions of over $100,000 a year, symbolic of the problem resulting from overtime being added to the salary basis for pension calculation.

Budgeting is poor: Actual shortfalls in the State general fund and in budget reserve funds from estimates, and pre-COVID-19 unemployment reserve, total about another $1 billion. Now Governor Lamont wants to spend $2 million to figure how to correct that and the larger COVID-19 shortfall. Connecticut really needs to implement zero based budgeting in such a manner that each department will have to prove its needs transparently.

A number of additional specifics are needed to put the State in better order: Highway spending needs to be better controlled, now costing three times as much per mile as the country’s average. The State minimum wage increase due to take place in September needs to be eliminated; such increases hurt more than help many especially vulnerable workers, and even more so now with huge State unemployment.

Democrats have long controlled the budget and the budget process in Hartford. They need to take these recommendations seriously if we are ever to end our State’s deficits, rather than expecting the rest of the country to bail us out.