State needs to swal­low cures for its ail­ments

Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - Opinion -

The Com­mis­sion on Fis­cal Sta­bil­ity and Eco­nomic Growth is a team of doc­tors of­fer­ing a sec­ond opin­ion on the state’s fi­nan­cial health.

It sup­ports a di­ag­no­sis we all sus­pected: The state has the flu. It’s had it for some time.

The pa­tient must be will­ing to take a course of cor­rec­tive ac­tion, and not just sip from a cup of warme­dover chicken soup poured from a dusty can in the back of the cup­board.

The com­mis­sion sug­gested sev­eral reme­dies ear­lier this year at the re­quest of state law­mak­ers — and was ig­nored. It didn’t help that union lead­ers im­me­di­ately hit the delete key on the re­port, which sug­gested sub­stan­tial con­ces­sions.

Though their as­signed work was done, mem­bers of the panel went rogue and pro­duced a sec­ond re­port a few days ago. We im­plore Gov.- elect Ned La­mont and the next Gen­eral As­sem­bly to study it with open minds.

Com­mis­sion lead­ers should have sought in­put from union lead­ers when they were pan­eled a year ago, though the re­sult would likely have been the same.

We don’t blame union mem­bers for feel­ing they keep get­ting tasked with do­ing heavy lift­ing to dig the state from this fi­nan­cial abyss. But let’s stop ig­nor­ing the re­al­ity that it’s time for them pick up the shov­els again.

Mem­bers of the com­mis­sion es­ti­mate fixed costs will con­sume 53 per­cent of the state bud­get in two years. There is a broad di­vi­sion in philoso­phies about pension debt. Gov. Dan­nel P. Mal­loy treated pen­sions as a hand­shake agree­ment that must be hon­ored. Some can­di­dates in the crowded field to suc­ceed him posited that the only way out to save any of it was to take a cleaver to the piggy bank.

Put your­self in the shoes of the per­son ex­pect­ing the pension. Per­haps you don’t have to imag­ine Mean­while, the debt keeps growing. Among rec­om­men­da­tions in Ver­sion 2.0 of the re­port is to boost teacher pension con­tri­bu­tions from 7 to 9.85 per­cent, with other state em­ploy­ees kick­ing in an ad­di­tional 2 per­cent.

Part of the rea­son­ing is that av­er­age an­nual wages for state em­ploy­ees were $ 69,963 in 2016, com­pared with a North­east av­er­age of $ 60,105.

Union lead­ers do them­selves no fa­vors by re­spond­ing with blus­ter about rais­ing taxes in­stead. Ev­ery­one in­volved likes to point to po­ten­tial sav­ings in the bud­get. That will never hap­pen with­out work­force re­duc­tions, which would take a greater per­sonal toll on union mem­bers than re­turn­ing to the bar­gain­ing ta­ble. The com­mis­sion’s sug­ges­tion is that a salary freeze be ex­tended, ex­cept for a 2 per­cent hike in 2020 to ac­count for the con­tri­bu­tion in­crease.

Mal­loy never got credit for twice ne­go­ti­at­ing con­ces­sions from the unions re­gard­ing wages and ben­e­fits. The unions don’t get any ei­ther.

But the unions pro­mote an Us. vs. Them nar­ra­tive. When it comes to cur­ing Con­necti­cut, there is no “Them.”

If we’re go­ing to shake this flu, we’re all go­ing to have to swal­low some medicine that doesn’t taste good.

We don’t blame union mem­bers for feel­ing they keep get­ting tasked with do­ing heavy lift­ing to dig the state from this fi­nan­cial abyss. But let’s stop ig­nor­ing the re­al­ity that it’s time for them pick up the shov­els again.

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