The pension problem Connecticut leaders refuse to face

Over the last year Connecticut state government's unfunded pension and retiree insurance obligations have been authoritatively estimated at between $60 billion and $80 billion. But last week a study for the Connecticut Council of Municipalities, written by Gordon Hamlin of Pro Bono Public Pensions, put the total at $112 billion and estimated that unfunded municipal pension obligations amount to another $14 billion.

Since municipal government finance is so intertwined with state government finance, that additional $14 billion is effectively state government's obligation as well, bringing the state's total pension deficit above $125 billion, six years' worth of all state government spending.

Remarkably, the CCM report passed without notice at the state Capitol. While Governor Lamont did gather legislative leaders as the report was published, it was only to talk about a transportation infrastructure plan, as if pension obligations haven't long been crowding out all public needs in the state, including transportation.

The governor and state legislators are just rearranging the deck chairs on the SS Connecticut even as it already has struck an iceberg bigger than the one that sank the RMS Titanic. There will be no saving the state without drastically curtailing its government employee pensions, and that can't happen without confronting the government employee unions, a fearsome special interest. Does any elected state or municipal official have such courage?

Workforce training

Last week the governor also gathered government officials, business executives, and nonprofit organizations at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven at the first meeting of his Governor's Workforce Council, which is meant to improve the caliber of job applicants in the state.

Connecticut, the governor said, increasingly needs workers with education beyond high school but only about 55% of the workforce has such education now. "Closing this skills and credentials gap," the governor said, "is a critical component to growing our state's economy and will tear down the barriers to economic opportunity that block too many Connecticut residents."

But the meeting had no discussion of social promotion, which allows high schools to graduate most students without mastery of math or English. Since they met at Southern, the governor and his audience might have asked administrators there about the large number of freshmen who require remedial high school courses. But that didn't happen either.

The new council did discuss establishing special vocational courses for young people, courses to be jointly financed by government and employers. It sounded like a third level of primary education to compensate for and overlook the failure of the previous two. 

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

 

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