More on the issues underling Connecticut’s State Employee Pension System

Here is the problem:  Connecticut’s State Employee Pension fund is significantly underfunded. 

 

Back in 2000 Connecticut had put enough money aside to meet more than 63% of its state pension obligations. 

 

However, repeated decisions by Governors Rowland and Rell with help and support from the Connecticut General Assembly and SEBAC (the state employee bargaining coalition) not to make necessary pension payments or reduce the level of pension payments that were made (along with early retirement incentives that pushed more people into the pension fund) reduced Connecticut’s funded pension ratio down to 44%.

 

Today, the State’s unfunded pension obligation is over $11.7 billion. (Or roughly a debt equal to $3,333 for every Connecticut resident).  Connecticut owes that money.  It will have to pay that money and it has not put aside the funds necessary to make those payments.

 

Connecticut’s system is one of them of the most underfunded systems in the nation. 

 

Despite this situation, much of what we hear about Connecticut’s state employee retirement system is so laced with partisan rhetoric and false statements that makes it almost impossible to have a meaningful debate about the problem and it’s vital that the state engage in an honest discussion about the pension system and its problems based on the facts and not the hype…

The real facts are these.

Connecticut has 57,825 state employees enrolled in the state’s employee retirement system.  Within that system are four separate pension program.  The old Tier 1 state employee pension program, which was closed to new enrollees in 1984.  Next the state adopted the Tier 2 program that began in 1985 and was then replaced by the revised Tier 2A program.  Finally, the Alternative Retirement Program provides a retirement system for faculty and selected staff at Connecticut’s public colleges and universities.  Instead of a pension these state employees receive what is in essence a 401(k) contribution that they can then take with them as their careers take them to other universities around the country.  Members of the Alternative Retirement Program do not receive a Connecticut state pension.

Of Connecticut’s active employees, the distribution of retirement plans is as follows;

 

Tier 1       4,569

Tier 2     19,298

Tier 2A   26,345

ARP         9,613 

 

Meanwhile there are 48,127 state retirees that receive some sort of pension and/or health benefits that they earned by fulfilling their legal requirements when they served as active state employees.  The following breakdown lists retirees by the retirement program the participate in;

 

Tier 1      29,888

Tier 2     10,986

Tier 2A       862 

ARP            391

 

As I reported in an earlier blog post, it is fair to say that the old Tier 1 pension program was pretty generous.  It is also vital to understand that of the 34,457 people participating in the Tier 1 system, 87% of them have already retired.  Only 13% or 4,569 active state employees remain in the Tier 1 system.

The average annual pension for Tier 1 employees is $34,917. 

However, since the benefit is calculated on the total number of years worked multiplied by the employees’ highest three years of income, some employees have managed to acquire large pensions either because they actually had high salaries or they used over-time to push up their salaries prior to retiring.  There are a total of 1,780 retirees with state pensions of $75,000 or more and 365 enjoy pensions of over $100,000.

Of the total 30, 284 people who are in the Tier 2 retirement program, 64% have retired and 36% remain in active service.   The average annual pension for Tier 2 retirees is $21,335.  The way Tier 2 pension is calculated it is more difficult for artificially pushes up one’s pension.  As result, there are 76 Tier 2 retirees with pensions of $75,000 or more and 15 with pensions of over $100,000.

The Tier 2A, the present retirement program for new state employees includes an even more limited pension program.  As of now, only 3% of the 27,207 Tier 2A employees have retired and the annual pension for these 862 individuals is only $11,289.  Of the Tier 2A retires one has a pension of over $75,000 and none have a pension of 100,000.

The bottom line is that new state employees and the vast majority of present state employees will not be receiving so-called “excessive” pensions when they retire. 

And while the state may want to explore creating yet another – Tier 3 – pension category, the real issue facing Connecticut IS NOT “reforming” the level of pension benefits for incoming state employees but how to deal with the obligation the state created under its older and now closed pension categories.

On a related front, there are some who want to explore the possibility of Connecticut reneging on its legal obligations by retroactively changing pension benefits or somehow defaulting on future payments. 

However, it is highly unlikely that the federal courts would allow a state to do that. Legal rulings to date are pretty clear.  While a private company can use bankruptcy to modify or avoid debts, states, with their taxing powers, do not have the ability to do that. (Although some states like California are or may seek ways to put that question to the test). 

Putting aside the moral question, the reality is that Connecticut will not be able to modify pension levels for those who have already retired and so we return to the fundamental problem of the fact that Connecticut obligated itself to future pension payments and then failed to set aside the funds to meet those obligations.

Furthermore, even if the state and unions could agree on legally allowable changes for present employees (and that is something the new Governor and the bargaining process can definitely explore) the bulk of the future obligations for retirees and future retirees are already in place. 

The failure of Connecticut state government to put aside the necessary funds simply can’t be undone.  The pennywise and pound foolish decisions of our elected officials have come to haunt us and separate of any discussions on “reforming the system”, the State must act by dramatically ramping up the level of funds it sets aside for obligations that are and will continue to come due.

When it comes to blame, there is certainly enough blame to go around but the burden now rests on Governor Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly to respond to those mistakes and set things right.

Wait, What? Connecticut has more public employees than most states?

A reasonable and “grown-up” discussion about Connecticut’s fiscal crisis requires that politicians use data in an honest and appropriate fashion and not seek to mislead the public.

Yesterday New York media outlets were reporting that newly inaugurated Governor Andrew Cuomo is “getting ready to announce layoffs of 10,000 to 15,000 employees.”

Meanwhile, here in Connecticut, the CTMirror ran a story two days ago entitled “For the first time, Malloy talks of cutting rank-and-file workforce”.   The CTMirror was covering a conference in which Governor Malloy reinforced his commitment to reduce the number of state managers but then went on to imply that he may be proposing deeper cuts that would reduce the number of non-manager employees. 

At that same conference, Republican legislative leaders once again made the claim that when it comes to the number of state employees, Connecticut is bloated and way out of line compared to other states.  

The Republicans have been making the same claim during the last few legislative sessions and especially during last year’s legislative and gubernatorial campaigns.

The fact is – their statements are simply not true.

That is not to say we shouldn’t demand and expect greater efficiency, but to suggest that Connecticut’s state government is especially bloated or that we have more public employees than most states is a lie.

The U.S. Census Bureau compiles a wide variety of data including information on the number of federal, state, and local government employees.  The most recent data available is for payrolls as of March 2009.

According to that information, Connecticut  had 57,117 full time employees and 24,139 part time employees for a total of about 66,500 full-time equivalent (FTE) public employees. 

This number translates to approximately 19 state employees per 1,000 population.  Of this number 28% work for Connecticut’s colleges and universities and are thus primarily funded from student tuition and fees.

As observers know, the problem about comparing information state by state is that different states utilize different models to provide government services.  Many states use county governments and regional entities, as well as state and municipal governments to provide public services whereas Connecticut only utilizes two vehicles – state government and municipal government.

To get a sense of the real number of state employees involved in providing government services it is more useful to look at state, regional and local spending.  This data provides a more honest assessment of where Connecticut stands compared to other states.

Using the most recent Census data, Connecticut has a total public employee workforce of about 187,000 FTE positions at the state and local level or about 54 public employees per 1,000 population.

Compare that number to New York which has 64 public employees per 1,000 population, New Jersey with 58 public employees per 1,000 and Massachusetts with 49 public employees per 1,000 population.

While the political rhetoric would lead us to believe that Connecticut is especially bloated when it comes to public service workers that fact is we rank in the middle to lower half of the states.

More honesty and less rhetoric is what is needed going forward.

You can access the public employees information at : http://www.census.gov/govs/apes/

FOOTNOTE:  The key problem with comparing states is that here in Connecticut we don’t have county governments — so we “appear” to have a larger state because most states provide some “state-like” services at the county level – that’s why one really has to look at a combination of state and local units. 

A prime example is public safety – Connecticut would appear to have a lot more state police because we don’t have county sheriff departments like NY, etc.

Another example is correctional officers.  CT has 7,931 FTE correctional officers or about 2.3 per 1,000 citizens.  Compare that to NY who have 33,739 FTE state correctional officers (1.73 per 1,000) but you then have to add in the county/local correctional officers to get the picture of how many correctional officers are needed to run their prison systems.  In this case there are another 24,929 FTEs at the County/Local level so in total NY has 59,000 FTEs correctional officers 3.0 per 1,000.  If you did just the state calculation you’d say CT had way too many but we actually have significantly fewer.  

Interestingly if you do the same calculation or MA and NJ they come out with fewer total correctional officers MA is 1.4 per 1,000 and NJ is 2.0 per 1,000.

Gas Prices in Connecticut – A Classic Wait, What? Moment:

As Connecticut’s political and business leaders renew their call for dramatic action to rebuild and enhance the state’s economic and job situation, state law continues to promote an exponential growth in gas prices – a situation that disproportionately hurts middle class families while increasing the cost of energy – a major cost factor limiting business and job growth in the state.

Connecticut’s growth in gas prices are a direct result of two factors – the manipulation of supply and demand by big oil and the oil-producing nations and the impact of Connecticut’s ill-conceived gas tax policies. 

As we know, the net result is that consumers are standing at the pump watching in disbelief as their vehicles swallow up more and more of their limited incomes. 

What they may not appreciate is that Connecticut gasoline tax policy is actually designed to promote an increase in gas prices. 

Perhaps even more insulting, and even less understood is that the “extra” money raised from Connecticut’s gasoline taxes do not go to support transportation or mass transit but are instead dumped into the state’s General Fund where they are used to cover other government expenditures.

 How does the Connecticut Tax System Work? 

In addition to the basic 25 cents per gallon state gasoline tax that is posted at the gas pumps, state law levies a gross receipts tax on the wholesale price of gasoline sold in Connecticut.  This tax increases the cost of gasoline by about 7.5% or, at today’s prices, about 19 cents per gallon.  As wholesale prices go up, the wholesale tax increases the retail price of gasoline exponentially.  As a result, Connecticut consumers traditionally pay some of the highest gas prices in the country.

While gas taxes are not classically “regressive” in that the burden does not automatically fall heaviest on the poor (since many urban poor do not have cars or drive greater distances to get to work), the gas tax does fall disproportionately on the working and middle class, especially in a state like Connecticut with its limited mass transit system. 

According to the US Energy Information Agency, the financial burden of gasoline expenditures falls heaviest on those making between $25,000 and $75,000 and those households with children.

With all of that, the real “Wait, What? Moment” comes back to the fact that while the state’s 25 cents per gallon gas tax is dedicated to the state’s Transportation Fund, a majority of the funds raised by the 2nd gas tax (the ever-expanding gross receipts tax) does not go to help pay for transportation related expenses.

The history dates back five years when Governor Rell proposed an expanded transportation initiative.  Rell called for increasing the gas tax by 1 cent per year for a number of years to pay for the new program.  However, rather than add to the very public (and arguably unpopular gas tax), the Democrats decided to dramatically increase the gross receipts tax on gasoline.   This strategy not only provided a revenue stream for the Transportation Initiative but generated “excess” revenues that could be diverted to other expenses.

Since Fiscal Year 2006, Connecticut’s expanded gross receipts tax has brought in more than $1.7 billion dollars but only about $700 million or so has gone to help renew Connecticut’s transportation infrastructure or help support Connecticut’s mass transit programs.  The rest – about a billion dollars – was used to fund non-transportation programs.

During last year’s gubernatorial campaign Dan Malloy made it clear that while he supports gasoline taxes he believes the funds should be used to improve Connecticut’s out-dated transportation programs.  It will be interesting to see whether the Malloy Administration follows through on those comments and re-directs all of Connecticut’s gasoline related revenues so that they actually support transportation programs.   It would actually be a relatively easy task.  The new Administration could actually shift all transportation and transportation related public safety costs to the state’s Transportation Fund and then apply all gasoline revenue to those activities.  While it wouldn’t change the overall bottom line it would ensure that consumers knew that they gasoline related tax dollars were actually going for their intended purpose.  

Finally, it would be very refreshing if upcoming Malloy budget made middle-income families a priority by dropping the complex gross receipts tax on gasoline and instead bit the bullet and went with a simple expanded flat rate gasoline tax that raised the necessary revenues.  By taking such an action Malloy could ensure that programs were properly funded while ending the state’s role as a factor in promoting the further increase in gas prices.

A Tax By Any Other Name is Still A Tax…

As the Great Storm of 2011 bore down on Hartford (not to mention the big  snow storm that hit on Wednesday night), Keith Phaneuf had a fantastic story in the ctmirror about the massive unemployment tax hike that will hit Connecticut businesses this year.

Full Story: http://ctmirror.org/story/11150/businesses-say-unemployment-tax-hike-goes-unnoticed-capitol

While some legislators and lobbyists for the business community are pointing to the issue as a reason for the state NOT TO ADOPT mandatory sick leave benefits that would impact a select number of Connecticut businesses, the mandatory increase in the unemployment tax is really a much more significant issue and should be considered as part of the overall tax debate in 2011.

Phaneuf’s article should be mandatory reading for every legislator.

The key facts are as follows:

Businesses pay a tax to the Connecticut Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund for every one of their employees.  The fund is used to pay benefits to any employee who is laid off or otherwise qualifies for unemployment benefits.

Since it is a mandated tax based on the employee’s salary, businesses appropriately consider this as part of the employee’s total wage and benefit package.

Due to the massive rate of unemployment, Connecticut’s Unemployment Trust Fund has been “insolvent” since October 2009.  When a state fund becomes insolvent it has to borrow money from the Federal Government.   

Connecticut has borrowed about $530 million to date to cover unemployment benefits for Connecticut residents. States are required to pay the Federal Government interest on any loans plus, over time,they must pay back the full loan.  In this case, due to the extent of the recession the Federal Government delayed the time period when states were required to start making interest payments on their loans.  The waiver period has ended and interest payments must begin this summer. 

The Connecticut Department of Labor has informed business that a new assessment (tax) will be implemented on August 1, 2011 to raise the funds necessary to start paying the Federal Government the interest Connecticut owes on the funds it has borrowed to date.  The new tax is expected to equal to about $40 per worker. 

As Phaneuf notes the new tax “which doesn’t even reduce the $530 million debt principal, is equal to roughly $53 million when projected over nine months. That’s about $12 million greater than the last tax hike the business community faced, a 10 percent surcharge on the corporation tax first imposed in 2009 and set to expire in 2012.” 

Making matters worse, the story goes on to report “State labor officials estimate the unemployment trust fund will need roughly $500 million more in loans over the next 12 months, despite two existing assessments on business that normally provide enough revenue to fund jobless benefits.”  This means the interest assessment will need to be increased at a later date, not to a significantly higher tax in the future to bring in the funds needed to pay the Federal Government back the $1 billion dollars Connecticut will have borrowed to pay unemployment benefits during this recession. 

Finally, in response to these issues, Phaneuf reports that Governor Malloy has said that he hopes Congress will extend the “interest waiver” since 40 other states are facing this problem.  An extension would allow Connecticut to postpone having to address this problem for year or more but the interest and loan will still need to be paid in the relatively near future.

 The bottom line is that an increase in the unemployment tax is needed – sooner or later – and elected officials, the business community and everyone involved in the budget making process must recognize that the upcoming unemployment tax surcharges are, in fact, very real tax increases and must be part of the overall tax plan to get Connecticut out of this fiscal crisis.

State Government – The Challenge of Facing Reality in These Economic Times…

Christine Stuart has an article today in ctnewjunkie that indirectly highlights the challenge that faces Connecticut.

Yesterday, as California’s new governor announced what could only be described as draconian cuts (along with a plan to raise taxes), Connecticut’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee announced that it will raise a bill to un-due a portion of last year’s budget that undermined Connecticut’s efforts to promote energy efficiency.  The bill would seek to re-allocate funds for an important state program.

As Stuart writes, “Environmentalists and small businesses are hopeful that since the state doesn’t have to borrow as much money as it initially expected when it passed the budget last year that it will restore some of the $28.5 million it planned on taking annually from the Energy Conservation and Load Management Fund.”

The full story can be found using the following link: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/finance_committee_may_restore_conservation_funds/

Legislators and advocates point out that this program was important because “The fund helps pay contractors to visit homes and businesses to conduct energy audits then figure out how to make the structures more energy efficient. It also helps residents receive rebates for purchases of energy efficient appliances.”

There is no question that is program is a prime example of how government can successfully play a role in helping to overcome the challenges that threaten our society, our state and its citizens.  Through programs like this, we can become more energy efficient, become more energy self-sufficient and do more to protect the environment and deal with the growing crisis associated with global warming and climate change.

It is a program that deserves support.

Yet at the same time, Connecticut, like so many other states is moving closer and closer to the proverbial cliff face as our state government races toward fiscal catastrophe.

One need only look to California to see what can occur (while Connecticut’s economic position is not as bad as California’s, the two state’s are facing similar situations). 

In California, despite having a new Democratic progressive governor, the proposed state budget there includes a $1.5 billion cut to welfare programs, a $1.7 billion cut to the state’s health care Medicaid programs, a reduction of $750 million to programs for the developmentally disabled and a half a billion dollar cut to the University of California system even though their public higher education system is already in deficit.  Brown’s budget also CUTS state employee take home pay by 8-10%.

This is not to say that the Finance Committee should not discuss re-funding the State’s important energy efficiency programs, but it is to highlight the challenge the Malloy Administration and the Legislature faces over the next few months.

Will forcing Connecticut’s wealthy to pay their fair share persuade them to leave Connecticut?

RAISE TAXES – THE RICH WILL MOVE…

It’s an argument we’ve heard in Connecticut a number of times.

 

Just last year, State Representative Lile Gibbons, the Greenwich Republican whose district includes the Greenwich homes with waterfront views, warned that if the legislature increased the estate tax “People just aren’t going to stay” in Connecticut.  Over the years many other Republican elected officials, including Jodi Rell, and business organizations have said the same thing.

Their argument is that if Connecticut raises the income tax or the estate tax on the wealthy the result will be that many wealthy taxpayers will simply shift their tax homes to locations with lower taxes.

Connecticut Republicans are not alone in making these dire predictions.  Conservative commentators are constantly making similar claims.  At the end of December 2010, an editorial in the venerable Wall Street Journal once again opined that the direct result of higher taxes on the wealthy is that many of them decide to sell their homes, leave their communities and flee to lower tax jurisdictions.

The editors of the WSJ used a recent report in the state of Oregon to back their claim, In 2009 Oregon, with a majority vote of its state legislature and the approval of its voters in a state-wide referendum dramatically increased its state income tax.  The rate for those making more than $500,000 was raised to 11% and the rate on those making $250,000 to $500,000 increased to increase to 10.8%.

A year later, when a report was released that Oregon has collected less revenue than projected, the WSJ wrote that Oregon’s wealthy had “fled the state”. 

But wait, it turns out that nothing of the sort occurred.  Rather than a wholesale dash for the border, the number of tax returns filed in Oregon actually went up.  That said, as a result of the deep recession that is dragging down the country, it turns out that a number of Oregon’s wealthiest taxpayers where no longer as wealthy as they once were and thus fell below the new “soak the rich” income tax rates.  

The “if you tax them, they will flee” myth was further busted in 2010, when a major international financial firm that tracks the marketing behavior of millionaires released their most recent report.  According to Phoenix Affluent Market’s data, the overall number of households making more than a million dollars actually increased by about 8% to 5.6 million.

The report, which measures the number of millionaires per capita in every state, discovered that “two of the states with the “highest marginal income-tax rates” also had the highest number of millionaires per capita.” 

The author of “The Wealth Report”, Robert Frank, who writes for the news division of the Wall Street Journal (rather than the editorial department), wrote “Hawaii, with the greatest number of per capita millionaires levies an 11% tax rate on those earning $200,000 or more.  Maryland, the state with the 2nd greatest number of millionaires targets its wealthy with a special millionaire’s tax rate of 6.25% and New Jersey, the state with the 3rd largest number of millionaires has a rate of 10.75% on those households earning more than $1 million a year.

Frank went on to “This isn’t to say that taxes don’t matter to the wealthy. They do. A lot.” But he also noted that “some states with very low marginal income tax rates, such as Connecticut and Alaska, also ranked high on the density list.”

To explain the apparent paradox that many wealthy people live in higher tax jurisdictions, Frank’s piece quotes the Managing Director of the Phoenix based consulting firm that released that study.  According to them, “…Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey, and Connecticut all share some important distinctions: they are small states with large concentrations of highly educated professionals and business owners, which are key ingredients to growing wealth…in general, most high-net-worth households don’t base their living decision on tax rates, but on things like quality of life, access to good education, infrastructure and culture.”

Connecticut’s wealthiest citizens presently pay a 6.5% income tax, far below what they would pay if they moved to New York or New Jersey (not to mention if they decided to live in New York City.  Even if Connecticut raised its income tax on those making more than a million dollars by a whopping 50%, the rate paid would increase to a point where it is on par with the other jurisdictions in the tri-state region.

To suggest that if we increase taxes on the wealthy they will flee is not only not true, but intellectually dishonest.  Even studies produced by our own state government reveal the truth.  In 2007 the Connecticut General Assembly examined out-migration.  While it found that the “largest number of individuals leaving Connecticut — 27,773 — moved to Florida” it also revealed that those who moved into Connecticut during the same period “had, on average, higher incomes” and “second-favorite destination for residents leaving the state was North Carolina, which has an estate tax and an income tax”  that is on par with Connecticut.

Oh and what are the state’s with the highest number of millionaires? Hawaii with 6.93%, Maryland 6.79%, New Jersey 6.69%, Connecticut 6.65%, Massachusetts 5.98%, Alaska 5.97%, Virginia 5.94%, New Hampshire 5.79%, California 5.66% and Washington, D.C. with 5.53%

For more information on this issue check out the following sources:

 Wall Street Journal:   http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704034804576026233823935442.html

WSJ’s Robert Frank; http://blogs.wsj.com/wealth/2010/09/28/high-tax-states-still-grow-millionaires/,

 Citizens for Tax Justice: http://www.ctj.org/taxjusticedigest/archive/2011/01/more_on_the_journals_bogus_ore.php

 And: http://www.phoenixmi.com/images/uploads/pdf_upload/StateRankingsMillionaires20062010.pdf, http://www.offthechartsblog.org/many-wealthy-moving-down-not-out/

Grappling with Connecticut’s Budget Crisis – Part I: What about Education Funding?

With a $19 billion dollar state budget, Connecticut spends about $2.5 billion dollars a year to support primary and secondary education (Pre-K through 12th grade) in the state’s 169 towns.

The bulk of those funds are distributed directly to towns/school districts through the ECS (Educational Cost Sharing) Formula which was designed to provide Connecticut’s poorer towns with extra funds since they didn’t have the tax base to fully fund their own school systems.

In order to fulfill Connecticut’s Constitutionally mandated requirement to provide all children with equal access to a quality education, Connecticut’s official policy goal for the past 25 years has been to have the state pay for 50% of the total costs associated with funding local schools leaving the cities and towns with the obligation for raising the other 50% through local property taxes.

Following the adoption of the income tax in 1991 the state reached a point in which it was paying about 43% of the total costs. Since then the state’s share has slipped lower and lower. Today the state only covers about 35% of the total cost associated with operating Connecticut’s public education system.  As a result of this underfunding, Connecticut’s level of state and local spending on education has means we’ve dropped to 39th in the country when it comes to our total outlay to help our state’s children acquire the knowledge and skills to succeed.

During the 2010 gubernatorial campaign Dan Malloy (and his Republican opponent) both promised not to make any cuts to the ECS formula. Neither campaign signaled whether the “no cut” pledge applied to the other $600 million the state spends on education costs.

That said, as Malloy Administration faces a nearly $4 billion dollar budget short-fall, it is unlikely that any real savings can be found in the education portion of the budget. For one thing, the new Governor is extremely committed to supporting education and secondly any cuts to state education funding would only translate into a greater burden on local communities and higher local property taxes.

The following highlights where the state’s education dollars are allocated;

  • Education Cost Sharing formula:     $1.9 Billion
  • Adult Education:     $21 Million
  • After School Programs:     $5 Million
  • Bilingual Education:     $2 Million
  • Excess Cost (Special Education):     $120 Million
  • Extended School Hours:     $3 Million
  • Private School Health Services for Pupils:     $5 Million
  • Inter-district Cooperation:     $14 Million
  • Magnet Schools:     $175 Million
  • Private School Transportation:     $4 Million
  • Open Choice Program:     $14 Million
  • Priority School Districts:     $117 Million
  • School Based Health Clinics:     $10 Million
  • School Breakfast Program:     $2 Million
  • Transportation of School Children:     $48 Million
  • Vocational Agriculture:     $5 Million
  • Youth Services Bureaus:     $3 Million

8:39 AM UPDATE —- Perhaps I spoke to soon – CT Mirror has a story today that suggets Malloy is backing off his pledge to not cut funding for local education.  Or perhaps it signals that while he will keep his promise not to cut the ECS forumla he may propose cuts to some of the other state grants to support primary and secondary education.  Here is a link to today’s CTMirror Story http://ctmirror.org/story/9153/malloy-education

After pledging during the campaign that he would maintain state funding for local education, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy backed off a bit Thursday, saying that is “a goal” that he will “try and accommodate.”

“That’s a goal that I have when preparing the budget,” he said during his first press conference after taking office. “There are many goals that I have. We are going to try and accommodate all of them,”

On the campaign trail he was much more definitive.

 

From WNYC.Org – A Tale of Two Governors: How Cuomo and Malloy Will Tackle Their Budget Crises

A Tale of Two Governors: How Cuomo and Malloy Will Tackle Their Budget Crises By Stephen Reader, WNYC.org, Tuesday, January 04, 2011

As the new governor of the state of New York, Andrew Cuomo has pledged to freeze the salary increases of state employees, veto any increase in personal or corporate income taxes, and impose a state spending cap.

Dan Malloy, who will be sworn in as the next governor of Connecticut on Wednesday, hasn’t pledged anything of the sort.

Both states face calamitous budget shortfalls in 2011 and for years to come. Both states regularly flirt with being the top taxing state in the country already. Andrew Cuomo, at least, has been frank about making thrift a priority, much to the dismay of hundreds of thousands of state employees who may not see an salary increase all year, and 900 others who were just laid off. Cuomo expects to use other spending decreases to correct budget deficits, rather than use higher taxes to increase revenue.

It’s less clear what Malloy has in mind. Unlike Cuomo, he has made no promises about his state’s taxes going up or down. Take a trip to the policy section of Malloy’s campaign website (which is suspiciously un-navigable from www.danmalloy.com), and you’ll see phrases like “address the balance of state and local taxation,” or “relieve the local property tax burden,” but nothing explicit about taxes being lower.

That could be because Malloy won’t make taxes lower for everyone, and doesn’t want to say who’s going to be hit with a hike. Restructuring the tax code or relieving the tax burden for certain demographics doesn’t necessarily imply a tax cut. For instance, Malloy could raise taxes on the wealthiest of Connecticut’s residents, thus lowering the tax burden, or share, for lower- and middle-income families without actually lowering their taxes.

Malloy has been at pains to keep tax hikes on the table without making them sound inevitable. “I want to be very clear: We’re not going to raise taxes,” Malloy said in the final gubernatorial debate in October. “That is the last thing we will do…if we have to, and only then to protect the safety net.” By “safety net,” Malloy means social services and health care that the state provides for the poor, elderly and disable. And when he says “if we have to,” it’s unclear how big an “if” that is.

Though Malloy (and every other politician in 2010) has railed against out of control spending and the need to get one’s fiscal house in order, he’s also been up front about plans to borrow cash to invest in infrastructure projects.

“I believe that infrastructure investment is long overdue, it primes the pump, and it puts people back to work. All eight of the downturns since World War II, we were led out of by construction,” Malloy told The New York Times. “Yet we elected people to Washington who don’t believe it’s an appropriate tool to use. I want to be very clear: I believe it is.” 

Malloy insists that investments will be strictly targeted toward those projects capable of generating the most revenue and employing the most people. Regardless, the promise of more government borrowing and spending does little to help Malloy’s case that taxes won’t go up.

The backing Malloy received from labor unions during the campaign raises more questions about how Malloy is going to make everybody happy. When Cuomo was on the campaign trail, he singled out labor unions as budget-busters that would lobby aggressively and run negative ads against any governor who targeted them for spending cuts. Freezing state employees’ salaries wasn’t going to lose Cuomo too many friends. On the other hand, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) spent $400,000 campaigning for Dan Malloy last year, and Connecticut labor leaders have sounded generally optimistic about working with the new governor. Were Malloy to change tack and adopt a Cuomo-style approach to cost-cutting, you can bet he’ll take more heat for burning the bridge.

Lastly, while Cuomo has proposed giving New York’s government a spending cap, analysts are predicting that Malloy may circumvent Connecticut’s. In the absence of significant spending cuts, Malloy will have to do some legislative finagling to get around the cap that was set by the state in 1991.

How Cuomo and Malloy fare as first-term governors will tell a great deal about their respective approaches to balancing state budgets. Connecticut and New York, already in critical fiscal condition, may turn out to be models of what state governments should and should not do to restore economic stability. As more and more states face rough seas ahead, it remains to be seen which course is worth following — and what Dan Malloy’s course ultimately will be.

 http://www.wnyc.org/articles/its-free-country/2011/jan/04/tale-two-governors-how-cuomo-and-malloy-will-tackle-their-budget-crises/

MIND THE GAAP – Confronting the Cost of Fiscal Honesty

January 5, 2011:  Dan Malloy is sworn in and Connecticut finally gets a Democratic Governor.  Oh, and the state will likely see the largest tax increases and deepest budget cuts in history.

Furthermore, as the state of Connecticut enters this new year and new decade, we will get a firsthand look at the underlying cost of introducing Fiscal Honesty to the state’s budget.

Why…because one of Governor-elect Dan Malloy and Lt. Governor-Elect Nancy Wyman’s  most significant campaign  promises was to move Connecticut government to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).   Connecticut requires all cities, towns and boards of education to adhere to GAAP standards, it just exempts itself from these common sense requirements.

During this year’s gubernatorial campaign Dan Malloy and Nancy Wyman repeatedly pledged to Connecticut to GAAP accounting as the single most important way to ensure greater honesty and transparency in state budgeting.  He made it clear that it would be one of his first and highest priorities.  Over the months he said he’d veto any budget that was not based on GAAP Accounting and recently said he will sign an executive order on his first day in office implementing GAAP accounting for state government.

The task is a noble, important and worthy one.  Connecticut state government should be required to conduct itself using this basic accounting system.  There is only one problem;

Shifting the State to GAAP will cost $1.2 billion dollars.  That’s $1.2 billion on-top of the $3.7 billion dollar budget short fall Connecticut is facing for next year. 

Borrowing an additional $1.2 is out of the question since the overall final cost to state taxpayers would actually exceed $2 billion once the loan and interest was paid.  Furthermore, it isn’t even clear the state could successfully float that much debt on Wall Street in the present economic environment.

Alternatively rather than actually shift to GAAP accounting all at one time, the new Governor and his Administration could “phase in” GAAP accounting.  Not quite the clean-cut shift that was originally promised or implied, but it could be argued that taking a real step in the right direction would certainly “move the state toward greater fiscal honesty”. 

The process of shifting to GAAP accounting is a very complex one, but an initial first step would be to “freeze the existing GAAP gap” and thereby make sure that the existing GAAP gap does not grow beyond the $1.2 billion figure.  While the state would not make any real forward progress toward eliminating the GAAP gap, a move to freeze the existing problem in place would, at the very least, make sure that Connecticut didn’t slide further into the financial chasm caused by our elected official’s unwillingness to hold state government to the most basic rules of honest financial accounting.

The move to “freeze the GAAP Gap” would cost the state an addition $80 to $100 million dollars in NEXT YEAR’S BUDGET.  After that, assuming the state then devoted an additional $80 million or more a year to the task of shifting the state to GAAP accounting, Connecticut could be fully GAAP compliant in – oh – let’s say 15 years.  

Any deviation from that task over the next decade and a half would prevent that goal from being reached, not to mention that the state could not engage in any more fiscal gimmicks over the same time period. 

The underlying problem (and big question) is that since the new Administration will already be proposing significant tax increases and program cuts (while seeking major state employee “give backs”), will the state government have the political will to allocate an additional $80 million to begin a 15 year shift to GAAP accounting.

With the state and nation still mired in the greatest economic recession since the Great Depression and the demand for vital state services increasing dramatically, it may be hard to convince a majority of legislators to allocate $80 million to freeze the GAAP gap at a time when most constituents will see major tax increases and many constituents will see their level of state services reduced.

Even in an era when Connecticut has a $19 billion dollar budget, $80 million is a lot of money.  For example, $80 million would go a long way toward ensuring that Connecticut’s most vulnerable residents get the additional services they need.  Alternatively, $80 million would help preserve the state’s critical state property tax credit program that helps middle-income families off-set a portion of increasing local property taxes.  And certainly an additional $80 million dollars in education aid to cities and towns would prevent the layoff of thousands of school teachers as cities try to maintain current levels of funding for their schools.

Virtually every candidate running for office in 2010 pledged to support the effort shift Connecticut to GAAP accounting.

As Connecticut state government finally confronts its economic crisis and moves to address the impact of years of failed budget policies keep a careful eye on what happens with the GAAP accounting issue.  Doing what is right on GAAP will likely mean that a lot of vital programs and services will go unfunded.

Keith Phaneuf’ at CT Mirror.org has been leading the coverage on this issue.  Here is one of his recent articles on the topic can be found here:   http://www.ctmirror.org/story/8536/conversion-gaap-means-kicking-bad-fiscal-habits .

Brian Lockhart has more on Malloy’s plans for GAAP on his blog today.  Take a look.  http://blog.ctnews.com/politicalcapitol/2011/01/03/malloy-explains-his-gaap-plans-sort-of/

 

Beware the GAAP