Retired teachers brought apples to the Legislative Office Building on Tuesday to ask their former students, who are now state legislators, to continue funding their health benefits account.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget doesn’t increase retired teachers’ monthly insurance premiums like it did last year, but it depletes the state’s contribution to the Health Insurance Premium Account.
That fund helps pay for a portion of retired teachers’ health insurance. Unlike other industries, teachers don’t qualify for Medicare benefits unless it’s through a spouse, which is why the state created the fund back in 1996.
The Association of Retired Teachers of Connecticut said that without the state’s contribution it almost guarantees that the fund will become insolvent.
The move is similar to what legislature did back in 2010. In order to balance both the 2010 and 2011 budgets, the state’s $60.5 million contribution to the fund was delayed for the first time in the fund’s history.
Malloy’s budget would eliminate the state’s contribution of $32 million to the fund in 2014 and $38.2 million to the fund in 2015.
The Teachers Retirement Board concluded that if there is no state contribution to the fund through 2017, it will become insolvent. And according to the governor’s own budget office, the fund will be reduced from $92 million to $52 million without the state’s contributions. Teachers argue that it’s not enough to help fund the health benefits of all the teachers considering retirement over the next few years.
Red Follman, a retired teacher and head of the Teachers Retirement Board Insurance Committee, said that unlike the pension fund, this is not an unpaid liability. He said there’s nothing in state statute that would require the state to make up for any lost payments.
“The fund simply won’t be there,” Follman said.
About 53,000 active teachers and 33,000 retired teachers contribute to the fund.
Mary Phil Guinan, a lobbyist for the group, said the governor didn’t single out retired teachers when it crafted its two-year budget that closes a $2.2 billion deficit. She said it’s likely they looked at the fund and figured it could take a hit.
But she said the group doesn’t believe the state should be allowed to zero out the line item because in less than four years the fund would be insolvent without state support. That’s why the teachers, who don’t receive Social Security and Medicare benefits, are asking lawmakers on the Appropriations Committee to protect it.
Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, who helped restore the cuts to retired teachers’ health benefits last year, said she is “truly perplexed” as to why the administration would even make the proposal. However, she was unable to make any promises about what will happen Friday when the Appropriations Committee releases its budget proposal.
“I have no idea what’s in it,” Lavielle told the group of retired teachers.
She said she’ll find out what’s in it at 9:30 a.m. this Friday just like everyone else.
It should be noted that the Appropriations Committee isn’t starting with the governor’s budget when it crafts its own. Guinan said they were told the committee would start with a current budget, which means they’re starting from a position where the retired teachers health benefits account is funded.
But she also cautioned that every entity that received a cut in the governor’s budget is out lobbying their issues and programs to lawmakers. She said the retired teachers will have to break through that noise, which was drowned out for the first half of the legislative session by the gun control debate.
Sandra Bove and Cathy D’Agostino, the two legislative co-chairs of the Association of Retired Teachers of Connecticut, encouraged their members to remind lawmakers of the promise they made to teachers when they created the fund. The retired teachers also left behind apples for lawmakers.
Rep. Dan Rovero, D-Dayville, told the retired teachers that “if I promised you something, I feel obligated to give it to you.”