July 2, 2012 | last updated July 3, 2012 10:34 am
EDITORIAL

Accounting truths may be hard to take Let the games begin

Oh, those pesky super accountants down in Norwalk. They're at it again, last week changing the rules and forcing state and municipal governments to provide real numbers public employee pension liabilities.

Image. Accurate numbers. Transparent and honesty in government.

What are these guys at the Governmental Accounting Standards Board, anarchists bent on toppling regimes?

That's exactly what could happen when taxpayers get a look at the bill that's been mounting out of public view.

Today, states and municipalities report how much they're supposed to contribute to their pensions each year — and how much they actually contribute. But until now, they didn't have to reveal their total pension obligation and how much they've socked away to cover it.

Connecticut recently made the national news as one of the five states with the largest estimated unfunded pension liability, a whopping $53 billion. But the municipal liabilities may be in a hole that's twice as deep.

We'll finally get to know for certain sometime after June 2014.

The rule change comes against the backdrop of efforts to scale back public-employee benefits in Wisconsin, California, New York, New Jersey and, yes, even on a small scale here in Connecticut.

For a glimpse of what likely looms ahead, one only needs to look at the sad case of Stockton, Calif., which is in the process of filing what will become the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. At 290,000 people, Stockton dwarfs anything in Connecticut. It's a distribution hub serving the Bay Area and has an active deepwater port. It's also part of a rich agricultural area. But all that economic activity isn't enough to sustain a budget hobbled by unsustainable pension costs.

Since 2009, Stockton has cut $90 million from its city budget, the mayor told CNN. The city has reduced its police force by 25 percent, its fire department by 30 percent and other city jobs by 40 percent but has not been able to get itself financially stable. Its operating budget is still $26 million in the red and its creditors aren't budging.

In general, the fallout of misguided government policies hits California about five years before it hits Connecticut.

The wheels have started turning on a Day of Reckoning for Connecticut municipalities. And when it comes, don't blame the accountants. Truth is their defense.

With some fanfare, the state invested $1.3 million of its tourism budget to create the Connecticut Convention and Sports Bureau, an organization dedicated to attracting large events to the state.

It is envisioned as a public-private partnership between the Department of Economic and Community Development and the successor to the Greater Hartford Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"We are here to play ball," proclaimed Chuck Steedman, senior vice president and general manager of the XL Center, which stands to be a major beneficiary.

The creation of the Sports Bureau comes just as UConn was announcing its men's hockey program is stepping into the big time by joining Hockey East, home of the national champion Boston College Eagles. UConn has given itself two years to make the transition from Division 1 doormat to what's arguably college hockey's top league.

Not to be lost in that upgrade is UConn's shift of its league games from its tiny on-campus rink to the XL Center. With a resident Division 1 team and a central location, the XL Center should be able to compete immediately for NCAA hockey regionals that have been bouncing between Bridgeport and Worcester and should be well positioned to land a national Frozen Four before the decade ends.

Now that would be economic development.

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