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February 5, 2018 OTHER VOICES

Unsurprisingly, CEO commission attacks working people

Lori Pelletier

It has become a tired bit of hyperbole that state workers are the cause of all of Connecticut's budget problems.

But that's what the Hartford Business Journal (“Business influence will be tested in legislature”) says is the problem in the state and they hope the newly formed Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth will heed their call to undermine state workers' earned retirement security.

Even though it's politically popular to go after state workers and their medical and retirement benefits, the attacks are usually far off the mark.

First, pensions for average retired state employees are around $30,000 per year and dropping — hardly a king's ransom and far less than the millions handed out as corporate welfare that receive far less scrutiny. Of course, extremist, anti-worker fringe groups like the Yankee Institute will highlight the outliers in the system but they do not represent the benefits of the average state worker.

Second, 82 percent of the payment into the state employee pension fund was to make up for contributions not made in the past or lost investment earnings, and had nothing to do with today's state workforce.

The Hartford Business Journal can be credited for recognizing that there has been a legacy of governors and legislatures kicking the can down the road when it comes to funding the state's pension plan. In fact, for 32 years, the legislature put away zero dollars. And even after that, they spent the next several decades contributing less than actuarially required. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is the first governor in our state's history to fully fund the pension at the actuarially required amounts.

Finally, it is important to point out that pensions play an important role in Connecticut's economy by supporting jobs and generating purchasing power in our communities.

In 2014, expenditures stemming from state and local pensions supported 33,792 jobs, $5.4 billion in total economic output, and $1.3 billion in federal, state and local tax revenues. The bottom line is that pensions in the state lead to an enormous amount of economic growth and to cut them would be penny wise and pound foolish.

It is somewhat ironic that in the same week the Commission is hearing proposals to cut middle class benefits, Oxfam International releases a report that more than $8 of every $10 of wealth created last year went to the richest 1 percent. And yet on this commission, we have many members of the 1 percent asking for presentations about how to take away working people's ability to negotiate their benefits so more wealth can be concentrated in even fewer hands.

Not exactly a prescription for economic growth.

Since the Commission is mostly made up of high-level business executives, why don't they concentrate on issues that will bolster both businesses and workers in the state? They can look at how irresponsible employers misclassify workers as independent contractors so they can circumvent our labor laws in order to be awarded as the lowest bidder on public works projects. This hurts workers and prevents honest employers from being able to compete on a level playing field.

Or they can look at how some employers pay their workers so little, they enroll in HUSKY, apply for food stamps, claim the earned income tax credit, seek out childcare subsidies and obtain other methods of public assistance. These companies yield tremendous profits and pay their CEOs astronomical bonuses while taxpayers foot the bill.

They should also focus on pushing the legislature to make significant investments in the state's deteriorating infrastructure, and invest in education and training programs so we can prepare today's workers for tomorrow's jobs.

Connecticut needs solutions, not just another round of attacks on working people. We hope this Commission will deliver, but we won't hold our breath.

Lori J. Pelletier is the president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, which represents more than 220,000 public and private sector workers.

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