POWELL: Abolish government pensions; and don't close the prisons

Published on Wednesday, 24 February 2021 16:07
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By CHRIS POWELL

Connecticut should prohibit pensions for state and municipal government employees, not because they are bad people or especially undeserving but for several solid policy reasons.

First, most of the taxpayers who pay for those pensions don't enjoy anything like them.

Second, state and municipal government can't be trusted to fund the pensions adequately.

And third, the pension system for state and municipal employees separates a huge and politically influential group from Social Security, the federal pension system on which nearly everyone else relies, and thus weakens political and financial support for it.

Connecticut state government has an estimated $60 billion in unfunded liabilities in its state employee and municipal teacher pension funds. But after attending last week's meeting of the General Assembly's finance committee, Yankee Institute investigative reporter Marc Fitch wrote that another $900 million in unfunded liabilities are sitting in New Haven's pension funds.

According to Fitch, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker testified about the city's pension fund disaster, noting that city government faces a projected $66 million deficit in its next budget and that pension obligations are a major cause of it.

Of course the mayor attended the hearing to beg more money from state government for the city. Unfortunately no legislator seems to have asked Elicker about the $117,000 annual pension the city is about to start paying its police chief so he can "retire" at age 49 to take a job with Quinnipiac University, probably at a salary around $170,000, and begin earning credit toward a second luxurious pension. Indeed, no news organization in New Haven seems to have even reported the chief's premature pension yet.

Maybe legislators didn't ask about the "retiring" chief's pension because state government has been just as incompetent and corrupt with pensions as New Haven city government. These enormous and incapacitating unfunded liabilities are proof of political corruption and incompetence at both the state and city levels - the promising of unaffordable benefits to a politically influential special interest.

Connecticut's tax system may be unfair, but it's not why New Haven is insolvent. Like state government, the city is insolvent because it has given too much away.

Government in Connecticut is good at clearing snow from the streets and highways because failure there is immediately visible. But beyond snowplowing government in Connecticut is not much more than a pension and benefit society whose operation powerfully distracts from serving the public.

This distraction should be eliminated, phased out as soon as government recognizes that it has higher purposes than the contentment of its own employees.

Proposing his new state budget this month, Governor Lamont announced plans to close three of Connecticut's 14 prisons in response to the decline of nearly 50 percent in the state's prison population over the last decade.

A few days later New Haven's Board of Alders asked Assistant Police Chief Karl Jacobson to explain the recent explosion of violent crime in the city.

According to the New Haven Register, the assistant chief said there were 73 gang-related shootings in the city in 2020 against only 41 in 2019 and 32 in 2018. Murders in the city so far this year total seven, against none in the same period last year. So far this year there have been 12 shootings in the city, up from five at this time last year, and 36 shooting incidents this year compared to 20 at this time last year.

As usual, the assistant chief said, a big part of the violence in the city involves men recently released from prison who resume feuds and otherwise are prone to get into trouble. The police plan to hold preventive meetings with such men, and the city has just opened a "re-entry center" for new parolees.

The explosion of crime in New Haven, Hartford, Bridgeport, and other cities does not sound like cause to close prisons. It sounds like cause to investigate prison releases and the failure of criminal rehabilitation.

Maybe the General Assembly would undertake such investigation if the former and likely future offenders were delivered to suburbs instead of cities. Then saving money by closing prisons might not be considered such a boast.

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



Posted in New Britain Herald, Columns, Editorials on Wednesday, 24 February 2021 16:07. Updated: Wednesday, 24 February 2021 16:10.