In an unlikely political pairing, Yankee Action, the advocacy arm of Hartford-based conservative think tank the Yankee Institute, began airing radio ads Thursday in support of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s attempt to wrestle $2 billion in concessions from state employee unions.
Yankee Action’s Executive Director Fergus Cullen said Thursday that the group didn’t support the tax increases Malloy proposed and the General Assembly adopted as part of the state budget, but they certainly support Malloy’s decision to ask state employees for $2 billion.
“We’re now on the same side,” Cullen said Thursday in a phone interview. “We wanted to create a political stake for Gov. Malloy to succeed.”
He said his group, which he described as independent, has been reporting on the salaries and benefits of state employees for the past few years and support Malloy‘s attempt to make them more sustainable. He said according to this Office of Legislative Research report some positions in state government are outpacing those in the private sector as far as their salaries are concerned.
The radio ad that began running Thursday pulls no punches when it comes to the issue of salaries and benefits of state employees.
“There are two groups in Connecticut: those who enjoy the job security, high pay, and generous benefits of government jobs, and the rest of us who pay for them,” a male narrator says. It then goes on to state that the governor’s salary is $150,000 a year and yet more than 1,100 state employees are paid more than that.
“That’s unbelievable!,” a female voice says.
“Hundreds of retired state employees collect pensions of more than a hundred thousand dollars a year,” the male narrator goes onto say. The data cited to support the claim was uncovered by the Yankee Institute through a Freedom of Information request.
“Governor Malloy is negotiating concessions with the state employees unions to save taxpayers two billion dollars. Without these concessions, thousands could lose their jobs and taxpayers will be asked for even more,“ the male narrator in the ad explains before asking listeners to contact legislators to ask them to “support the governor in his fight to restore balance.”
Cullen said his organization has been sounding the alarm bells for years about the state’s unfunded pension liability, which according to a recent Pew Center on the States report http://www.pewcenteronthestates.org/uploadedFiles/Pew_pensions_retiree_benefits.pdf is around $44 million.
“That pension liability is tied up in negotiations as well,” he said.
Only the governor has the ability in Connecticut to negotiate pension benefits with state employees. The legislature has little, if any control over it.
“We remain hopeful a deal can be reached and were doing everything in our power to make that happen,” Colleen Flanagan, Malloy’s spokeswoman, said. Thursday. She declined to comment on the odd pairing of the governor and the Yankee Institute.
Cullen and others worry that if a settlement can’t be reached Malloy and the General Assembly will return to increase taxes beyond the $2.6 billion raised by the two-year, $40.11 billion budget signed into law Wednesday.
Cullen said he hopes to keep the ads running as long as negotiations continue. It’s important for the public to have the facts and help make the governor’s negotiating position stronger, he said.
Larry Dorman, spokesman for the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, dismissed the impact the ad will have on negotiations.
“This is the same group that’s funded by those that robbed the economy in the first place,” Dorman said. “It’s typical of the right-wing group to point fingers and scapegoat middle class workers rather than contributing to the dialogue.”
He said the radio ad is just more “right-wing, anti-worker politics.”
“Is this really helping Connecticut?“ Matt O’Connor, another SEBAC spokesman, said. “We’re working to achieve a mutual agreement.”
“Go do some research and stop inserting yourself into the discussion,” O’Connor said. “The process is the process and it doesn’t include them.”