This post was written by Michael Barry in response to Opinion: CT can’t afford these state raises, benefits by Red Jahncke and Andrew Biggs, published in the Middletown Press on April 1, 2022.
I am responding to an April 1, 2022, opinion article written by Red Jahncke and Andrew Biggs entitled “CT can’t afford these state raises, benefits.” I would counter that Connecticut cannot afford not to recognize and reward essential state workers with a fair and honorable contract. While the pandemic raged for two years, the state continued to function because of essential state employees who continued to do their jobs in times of uncertainty. They taught our children, maintained our roads and bridges, provided mental health services, cared for our hospitalized citizens, and performed other vital services daily. The public relies on these services, and workers in understaffed agencies rose to the task.
Mr. Jahncke and Mr. Biggs write about the underfunded State Employees Retirement System (SERS) and retiree benefits. The vast majority of the unfunded liability issue is due to obligations for workers who started employment before 1984. Recent reforms in the 2017 SEBAC Agreement created a Tier IV retirement plan with a lower pension multiplier and a small defined contribution plan, plus changes to cost-of-living adjustments for all employees who retire after July 1 of this year. While some workers are retiring because of changes in the SERS, the state is also realizing billions of dollars in savings.
All workers deserve a pension and health benefits in retirement. According to the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS), each dollar paid out in pension benefits supported $1.40 in total economic activity in Connecticut. Also, according to NIRS, the average annual pension received in Connecticut was $38,235 per year. These modest benefits provide retired teachers, public safety personnel, and others who served the public with income to meet basic needs in retirement.
In the last 15 years, Connecticut’s public workforce has shrunk by over 20%, and there are currently thousands of openings in agencies across the state. The state is losing many other mid-career professionals for higher-paid positions in the private sector. Coupled with a defined-benefit pension plan, a fair contract provides crucial leverage for state agencies to recruit and retain a highly-skilled public workforce.
Michael Barry is the Campaign Coordinator for the Connecticut Coalition for Retirement Security, and a retired Probation Officer with the Connecticut Judicial Branch.