Malloy’s efforts won’t prevent Connecticut from creating a better future

To the editor:

While Connecticut taxpayers will not be voting for Governor Malloy at the end of the year, he seems determined to make the remainder of his tenure as painful as possible. The least popular governor in America used his veto powers, once again, to thumb his nose at the legislature and the people of Connecticut.

There was the bipartisan bill to prevent cuts to legislatively approved Education Cost Sharing funding, as the governor did last year. There was the bill to expand tax credits as a way to promote the creation of manufacturing apprenticeships, something our state sorely needs. And there was the bill backed by the Connecticut Education Association to enhance teacher and student safety in the classroom.

The governor rejected all of these efforts to make Connecticut a better place to live.

He does this despite continuous reports of the state’s shrinking labor force and calls by manufacturers to provide more training to create the skilled workforce they need. He ignores the state housing market’s inability to show a broad-based recovery because of years of people moving out of our state. Even though the state faces projected budget deficits, he throws millions of tax dollars to bribe businesses to stay in Connecticut that create only a few more jobs. Meanwhile, GE and Aetna sought better locations for their headquarters. The businesses that still struggle here could benefit from lower costs that would allow them to be more profitable, not short-term handouts.

If there has been anything positive regarding Governor Malloy’s tenure, it is the result of more Republicans being elected to the Legislature to counter his poisonous policies. Our numbers allowed us to defeat tolls and tax increases. It also enabled us to pass a new, more fair education costs sharing formula.

It took a while, but legislative Democrats finally realized that working with us was their best option. This enabled us to produce more truly bipartisan legislation than our state has seen in a long time.

Even though Governor Malloy vetoed some of this legislation, I am confident that when Democrat and Republican legislators return to the Capitol the week of June 25, we will have the votes to override most, if not all of the vetoes. That is because it is not about partisan politics. It is about doing what’s best for the people of our state.

Governor Malloy may still have his tantrums, but he will quickly be in our rearview mirror. Connecticut can then embark on a bright new future.

State Sen. Toni Boucher

Why is wealthy Westport trying to gut police pensions?

To the editor:

Police in Westport are resisting an attempt to slash their pension benefits and partially replace their retirement with a 401(k)-style plan. Such a move would mess with a tried-and-true system that promotes secure and orderly retirement in favor of an inefficient one that harms workers without benefiting taxpayers.

Westport is a latecomer to a trend that appears to have nearly run its course. Cities such as Dallas, Texas, Memphis, Tenn., Palm Beach, Fla., and — closer to home — New London that previously slashed pensions were later forced to restore benefits or spend millions on retention bonuses in efforts to stem outflows of experienced police officers and firefighters.

The pension-gutting movement, which relied on shock-and-awe tactics and stoking the pension envy of taxpayers, lost some momentum as our organization and others pointed out that pension liabilities were being inflated for political purposes and that switching to 401(k)-style plans was unlikely to save taxpayers money in the long run.

Police and firefighter pensions are designed to recruit and retain career-minded candidates for jobs that require significant formal and on-the-job training — and then to encourage these officers and firefighters to retire at relatively young ages in recognition of the stressful and physical nature of these jobs. Westport’s police pension has served these needs well. While there virtually no midcareer turnover, 85 percent of officers are expected to retire between the ages of 54 and 61.

In contrast, with 401(k)-style plans, retirement income and timing depend on the vagaries of the stock market. If Westport slashes its police pension and adds a 401(k)-style plan, it will have trouble easing out older officers during bear markets, but could experience mass retirements during bull markets when labor markets tend to be tight and hiring replacements is more difficult.

Why would Westport mess with a system that works? The police department is tiny and the town can easily afford the benefits. In the 2015-2016 fiscal year, spending on police pensions amounted to just 1.2 percent of the town’s revenues, so even drastic benefit cuts wouldn’t noticeably affect anyone’s tax bill. Westport’s property tax rate is already among the lowest in the state, though taxes are high in dollar terms as would be expected for a wealthy town in a high cost of living area.

A few years ago, however, the conservative Yankee Institute dubbed Westport “an outlier among outliers” in terms of the pension and retiree health benefits provided to police and other town employees. Though this appears to have goaded some of the town’s elected officials into action, it simply isn’t true.

Pension benefits in Westport are standard for police officers not covered by Social Security, replacing 50 percent of an officer’s base salary after 20 years and 75 percent after 30 years, with police officers contributing 10 percent of their salaries toward the cost. While these benefits are better than many private-sector workers receive, they only partly compensate for lower public-sector salaries.

Some retired members received more valuable benefits, as is often the case for members of earlier “tiers” in an age of pension cuts. But further cutting the pensions of active members and new hires won’t reduce these legacy costs. And while pension critics sometimes have valid criticisms of pension “spiking” by workers who maximize overtime before retiring in order to boost pension benefits, this isn’t a problem in Westport, where overtime pay isn’t factored into pension benefits.

The 64 members of the Westport police department, who signed on for what they thought was a career of public service that would be rewarded with a secure retirement, may still pay a price, unless the citizens of Westport realize that the police force they have come to rely on may be torn apart by shortsighted pension “reforms.”

No one likes to feel that they’re overpaying for public services, but that’s not the problem in Westport. The problem is people with an axe to grind playing games with numbers.

Marpe scrimping on fire service budget

To the editor:

The taxpayers in towns surrounding Westport should note that First Selectman Jim Marpe is scrimping on his fire service budget by relying on their fire departments to come to his rescue.

According to this story, Marpe believes mutual aid agreements with neighboring communities “ensure fire safety professionals have been able to respond with appropriate force and speed to all areas of Westport.”

Mutual aid agreements are intended to provide assistance to neighboring departments when they encounter incidents that go beyond what their appropriately staffed and equipped companies can handle. They’re not meant to disperse a municipality’s public safety costs to adjacent towns.

Harold F. Cobin