Candidate for governor has a plan, but not all the answers
Last week’s column and prior editorials have referenced the gap between the bumper-sticker rhetoric of the campaign and the complexity of the challenges the incoming governor will face. Chief among them is closing the projected $4.6 billion deficit in the first two-year budget plan that the new governor will have to prepare for the legislature.
That sparked a call from the campaign of David Stemerman, petitioning to be one of several Republicans seeking the party’s nomination in the Aug. 14 primary. Stemerman, in a nearly hour-long phone interview, said he has plenty of ideas.
And, indeed, he does, providing detailed policy positions on his campaign website, davidstemerman.com.
Subjected to scrutiny, some of these ideas appear only half-baked. They sound good, but come up short. Yet at least this businessman turned politician recognizes that fixing the budget problem is critical to restoring economic growth and is offering a plan.
Stemerman recognizes the threat posed by the state’s grossly underfunded pension system. He proposes creating a massive trust fund, privately managed and protected from legislative meddling, which could be used to provide lump sum buy outs to close out some of the oldest and most costly pensions, stopping their year-to-year drain on the budget.
He didn’t, however, provide an estimate for how much money Connecticut would have to bond to create the fund. It would have to be a lot.
The would-be governor is also calculating that he can trim labor costs and long-term obligations by getting state workers to provide concessions and tie their compensation, in part, to the state’s economic performance.
The problem is that a contract extension is in place, securing benefits through 2027, protection extended to the unions by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the Democratic-controlled legislature in return for earlier concessions. Stemerman said he will make the case that promised benefits cannot be delivered without more adjustments, which makes bargaining in the best interest of state workers.
The unions probably won’t see it that way.
“There is no way that our state will be able to survive the upcoming fiscal crisis unless and until we renegotiate those contracts. It is in everyone’s best interest to resolve this in a negotiated fashion,” he said.
But if that approach fails, Stemerman contends the governor would have the power to adjust benefits to protect the state.
“If we need to act unilaterally in order to save our state from a financial crisis and an economic meltdown, as governor it will be my responsibility to do so,” he told me.
It is questionable whether the courts would agree.
Stemerman said he is invested in the state. The success of his hedge fund company, Conatus Capital, would allow him to move anywhere, but Stemerman said he and his wife, raising five children, have chosen to settle in Connecticut.
To update the state’s outdated and poorly maintained transportation infrastructure, Stemerman wants to turn to the private sector to invest in highways, airports and revitalizing and expanding the commuter rail system. But private investors need a return. On highways that would seemingly come from tolls, something Stemerman says he opposes, along with all the Republican gubernatorial candidates. And train systems are almost universally dependent on government subsidies.
To spur economic growth, Stemerman would lower the income tax rates and push for a more business friendly regulatory environment. But plans for making up the resulting revenue loss are sketchier.
Conventional political wisdom is keep it simple. Detailed policies provide more opportunities for opponents to attack. But Connecticut needs more than simple solutions, so give Stemerman credit for developing a plan voters can evaluate.
Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.