Gov. to mu­nic­i­pal lead­ers: Help pay teacher pensions

The News-Times - - NEWS - By Ken Dixon [email protected]­ Twit­ter: @KenDixonCT

HART­FORD — Gov. Ned La­mont on Wed­nes­day made a closed-door pitch for towns and cities to fi­nally shoul­der some of the costs of teacher pensions in school sys­tems that pay higher-than-av­er­age salaries.

After a one-hour meet­ing in the Capi­tol with may­ors, first se­lect­men and staff of the Con­necti­cut Con­fer­ence of Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, both La­mont and the elected of­fi­cials agreed that it was a good ini­tial di­a­logue. The lo­cal lead­ers said the meet­ing was in a col­lab­o­ra­tive style de­cid­edly dif­fer­ent from the previous ad­min­is­tra­tion of Gov. Dan­nel P. Mal­loy.

While no agree­ments were reached, Water­bury Mayor Neil M. O’Leary said that gen­er­ally, the lo­cal elected lead­ers un­der­stand the state’s predica­ment, fac­ing a $1.5 bil­lion deficit in the bud­get set to start on July 1, and if they can raise some ex­tra rev­enue lo­cally to off­set po­ten­tial costs, the gover­nor’s leg­is­la­tion might suc­ceed.

“Look, I’ve got a lean bud­get and every­body likes a lean bud­get in the ab­stract un­less it im­pacts their par­tic­u­lar bud­get,” La­mont said. “We’re going to get it done soon. We’re going to reach a good res­o­lu­tion on this and hold down costs for the state of Con­necti­cut. Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties would like a little flex­i­bil­ity in terms of how they raise rev­enue. I un­der­stand that.”

“The gover­nor, as al­ways, has been very re­cep­tive to us,” O’Leary told reporters, first de­mur­ring from is­su­ing de­tails of the dis­cus­sion. “I think that a lot of the towns represente­d in CCM, man­agers and may­ors re­al­ize we should have some skin in the game for our teach­ers. Having said that, I think we need to be able to be heard as to of­fer­ing up al­ter­na­tives and/or al­ter­na­tive sources of rev­enue di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion.”

O’Leary said it’s too early to tell whether a fi­nal bud­get bill would in­clude com­po­nents where towns con­trib­ute to teacher pensions. In 2017, Mal­loy’s ef­fort to force towns and cities pay for a por­tion of teacher re­tire­ment pay­ments failed amid wide-spread leg­isla­tive opposition.

He said that La­mont and Mal­loy have en­tirely dif­fer­ent styles. “There’s a little bit more op­por­tu­nity for us as cities and towns to ex­press our feel­ings and our po­si­tions, and what we’re wor­ried about and what we’re not wor­ried about with this ad­min­is­tra­tion,” O’Leary said, de­clin­ing from list­ing specifics.

Pre­vi­ously this leg­isla­tive ses­sion, the CCM has pro­posed tax­ing non­profit agen­cies, and gen­er­at­ing lo­cal ser­vice. “We’re talk­ing about any and all opportunit­ies to try to pro­tect the tax­pay­ers in our in­di­vid­ual towns and cities,” O’Leary said. “We’re try­ing to en­hance ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing.”

Also in the room, among about a dozen chief elected of­fi­cials, was Sey­mour First Select­man Kurt Miller, Ridge­field First Select­man Rudy Mar­coni and Fair­field First Select­man Michael Te­treau. Ridge­field and Fair­field pay higher than the statewide me­dian for teacher salaries, so both towns would pay more into the pen­sion plans than those that pay their teach­ers less, un­der La­mont’s bud­get pro­posal.

“I’m very pos­i­tive to­day, after our meet­ing with the gover­nor,” Mar­coni. “I have never in my 20 years have had a seat with the gover­nor, sit­ting, talk­ing dis­cussing, in­form­ing him of where we’re look­ing at, from our level. And some­times it’s a whole dif­fer­ent view when you get down into the streets, into the trenches, of what we’re hear­ing. Not every­one is going to get what they want and we rec­og­nize it, but as a state we need to be­gin work­ing to­gether.”

Mar­coni said Ridge­field pays its teacher about 18 per­cent more than the statewide av­er­age. The Gen­eral Assem­bly’s Fi­nance Com­mit­tee has a May 2 dead­line to ap­prove tax leg­is­la­tion.

Te­treau said that Fair­field pays about 7 per­cent higher than av­er­age. “From my stand­point the number one pro­posal in all of this that I op­pose is the trans­fer of costs on the pensions be­cause it starts at $700,000 this year, in­creases 100 per­cent to $1.4 mil­lion, then it in­creases by another 50 per­cent to $2.1 mil­lion, and that’s only over three years,” Te­treau said in an interview. “And we don’t know where it stops.”

Te­treau said that for decades, tax money from Fair­field that should have gone into teacher pensions wasn’t in­vested there. “My con­cern is that if the costs get trans­ferred down, it be­comes the fastest grow­ing line on our bud­get, which drives up prop­erty taxes and it puts tremen­dous pres­sure on our ed­u­ca­tion bud­gets,” he said. “And the trade off there is it takes money away from stu­dents.”

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