Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Editorial - How to bankrupt a state: Free health care for insiders in broke Connecticut

Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst
Photo from the New Haven Register
This editorial was first published in the New Haven Register on June 12th, 2017

Seven years into Connecticut’s self-inflicted fiscal crisis, Governor Dan Malloy and his insider allies in Hartford are once again looking to struggling Connecticut families and businesses to sacrifice more rather than bringing real reform to a broken state government and crushing unfunded liabilities.
Recently, the governor called for $300 million in new taxes and other revenue “enhancements” — code language for other new tax hikes.

What is particularly unacceptable about the governor’s renewed drive to shake down hardworking families is the complete and utter lack of reform to the state’s incredibly generous system of benefits.
The real drivers of Connecticut’s economic collapse are unfunded liabilities, the cost incurred by the state guaranteeing pensions and health care benefits for which we have not properly budgeted for the promises we made years ago. The state has at least $22 billion in unfunded pension liability and another $19 billion for health care.

Under the failed tutelage of Governor Malloy, his insider allies have passed two of the largest tax increases in state history and now are looking to squeeze taxpayers even more.
But so weak-kneed has the leadership been in both parties in Hartford over the course of the last decade, no substantial reform has been brought to these benefits at all.

In fact, we are continuing to provide health care benefits that are far more generous than what current and former members of Congress receive.

This information came to light after I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the office of the State Comptroller. We discovered that five of our current and former members of Congress here in Connecticut are receiving free or next-to-free health care from taxpayers — rather than electing to take federal benefits.

The fact that we have current and former members of Congress electing to take state coverage, instead of the already generous benefits they are eligible for from the federal government, puts in perfect perspective just how excessively generous these state plans are.

Among the information obtained was the rate sheet for them and other Connecticut state workers. That sheet showed that the vast majority of coverage options for state retirees cost the policy holder (individual, plus one or family) a monthly premium of $0. The share for Connecticut taxpayers ranges from $492.76 to $985.53 per month.

That means these retired members of Congress are taking a state health care benefit that is free for them, costing taxpayers thousands per year. Every man, woman and child in Connecticut is on the hook for $5,500 to cover our unfunded healthcare costs.

If Connecticut’s current and former members of Congress took the federal plan, at a minimum, they would contribute $116 per month toward the cost of their coverage. Among the members of Congress benefitting from free coverage under the state plan is our Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).
Sen. Blumenthal is the second richest member of the U.S. Senate receiving free health care courtesy of Connecticut taxpayers while struggling families are facing uncertainty over the future of our nation’s health care system and rising premiums. That is a perfect example of why Connecticut is so broke and why these programs are so desperately in need of reform.

With a $5.2 billion dollar budget deficit, a state government paralyzed and without a balanced budget, and 55 people fleeing Connecticut each day, we simply cannot afford to provide these kind of excessive perks any longer. We need to bring these benefits in line with other states and the private sector. Over the course of the last seven years, the Hartford insiders have not sounded the alarm on these incredibly generous benefits and for good reason.

The Hartford insiders want these same rich benefits when they leave elected office. These politicians, beholden to special interests, have demanded more and more sacrifice from struggling workers, families, businesses and retirees at the same time they have been the most chronic abusers of a dysfunctional system. Not one elected leader, in either party, blew the whistle on this information while our state grappled year after year with fiscal calamity.

Comptroller Kevin Lembo, now the Democratic frontrunner for governor, as good as voted for the two largest tax increases in state history by sitting on this information while our unfunded liabilities continued to spiral out of control.

We simply cannot afford to elect Governor Malloy’s accountant, or any other insider, who hid this information from the public while taxpayers and businesses were being pushed to the brink.
The fact that this information sat untouched while the state grappled with such severe budget problems proves more than ever why we need to elect a proven reformer and Hartford outsider if we are going to tackle our state’s challenges.

We need leaders who will fearlessly turn over rocks in Hartford, pursuing every possible angle to fix Connecticut’s budget so we can once again grow wages and jobs.

When I came into office eight years ago in Trumbull I discovered these same kinds of perks at the local level. I inherited a broken pension system funded at just 27 percent and a town government bloated with patronage and big egos. I took immediate action to tackle our unfunded liabilities.
I refused a town pension and eliminated free healthcare. I eliminated pensions for political appointees. All new hires now enter a defined contribution plan. We increased health care contributions, across the board. We identified $1 million in operational savings in the town budget in just my first 100 days in office. We took difficult, bold steps, working with our labor leaders, to reform our pension system.

Voters can count on me to demand the kind of serious concessions needed to bring state benefits in line with reality because I’ve already done it at the local level.

Connecticut’s challenges are not insurmountable — the solution is to elect a new generation of leaders with a record of proven reform and an outsider perspective.

Tim Herbst
Herbst is the first selectman of Trumbull and a Republican candidate for governor in 2018.

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