Ancient Greeks and Romans brought enemy nations to their knees by burning crops and poisoning wells in what became known as a “scorched earth” strategy. With only days to go in her final legislative session, Gov. M. Jodi Rell is implementing the same strategy; however, her version is being used against the citizens of Connecticut.
In November 2008, Rell called a meeting with state employee union leaders so that her economic advisors could explain the severity of the economic crisis our state was facing. Rell’s advisors stated quite plainly that during an economic crisis the state should not cut public services or education because that would only make things worse. I watched as Rell visibly bristled at this statement. Her discomfort with the sound advice of her advisors would become quite apparent, as over the next year and a half she would go on to make massive cuts to public services and education in an economy that needs more job creation, rather than more unemployment. Instead of planting seeds, she’s burning crops.
Her latest scheme calls for borrowing nearly $1 billion and relying on citizens to help pay it back through the surcharge on their electric bills. Rell also sought to reduce the number of workers providing public services by calling for an Early Retirement Incentive Proposal (ERIP). State employee unions, in a meeting with Rell’s representatives, asked if the administration had numbers regarding the pension liability for the 2009 retirees and estimates on how this early retirement package would impact the state’s workforce. The administration didn’t have a response and we’re left to wonder if they even looked at the numbers themselves. It seems obvious that they didn’t.
Now, editors, columnists, reporters, and even state employees are questioning why an ERIP would be bad. The answer is that an ERIP would leave our already short-staffed state government with even fewer workers to get the job done. In addition, the state’s pension fund has been seriously underfunded for years and this ERIP would push it from shaky ground over the edge, and into the abyss.
This ERIP essentially reaps a short-term $65 million savings and costs the state at least $1.2 billion in interest over the life of the loan. You can get better interest rates from the banks on Wall Street, but I wouldn’t advise you do either.
None of that seems to concern Rell, who has always been content to borrow against the future – a future in which she won’t be responsible for the mess she left behind.
Our state has faced four economic crises in the last 20 years. In every crisis, state employees and their unions have stepped up to help. In this last round , more than $900 million in savings was given to the state in deficit reduction assistance. The wage freezes and furloughs, healthcare cost increases and benefit changes, as well as a retirement incentive and other concessions meant this predominately middle class workforce gave up more than Connecticut’s corporate community and the richest among us to help in a time of need. Kind of makes you think about who cares about helping, and who cares to ask for help.
So what’s really going on here? Why poison the economic well with such bad policy. Why pound down the people who do the most to lift us up? A cynical person might look at all the Rowland-Rell-Fedele appointees who will be out of work soon and see how many will benefit from this high-interest parting gift as the governor makes her way out the door. It has more to do with an army of commissioners, deputy commissioners, and deputy assistant commissioners appointed by the governor for the express purpose of dismantling government services.
Nero may have fiddled while Rome burned, but Rell is doing the burning in Connecticut. Let’s hope our state can survive it.
Eric Bailey is the Communications Director for AFT Connecticut.