Gov. to municipal leaders: Help pay teacher pensions
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.”