While we are all deeply concerned about North Korea’s nuclear weapons, violence and tragedy in Charlottesville and, here at home, the absence of a state budget, I believe, as our founders did, in the promise of our nation and the strength, ingenuity and resolve of its people. As your state representative, I remain determined to move our town and our state forward as we navigate through this difficult time.
The latest development in our state budget process occurred at the end of July when the Senate joined the House in approving the 2017 State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC) Agreement. This agreement, which I supported, is expected to generate $1.6 billion in savings over the next two years, and up to $24 billion over the life of the agreement.
According to an independent analysis completed by The Pew Charitable Trust, the agreement will
- reduce total pension cost,
- mitigate risk to the state in the event of shortfalls in investment returns, and
- shrink state employee pension liabilities over time.
The agreement imposes a three-year wage freeze and three furlough days in 2018, and delays a longevity payment, all of which will result in $385.2 million in savings for FY 2019.
Another $300 million in savings for FY 2019 comes from changes to both employee and retiree healthcare. Pension savings are generated by raising employee contributions by 2%, and introducing a hybrid defined benefit/defined contribution plan for new employees.
The approval of this agreement was a critical step in closing the state’s $5 billion projected short-term deficit and lowering long-term costs. The full SEBAC agreement can be found HERE.
A negotiated labor agreement is brought before the legislature for an up or down vote only. It cannot be amended. Each of the 187 legislators, including me, might have written a slightly different agreement had we been able to do so. But by state statute, it is the Executive branch that negotiates with the state employees, and the legislature votes yay or nay. I am grateful to the employees for their participation in the process and for the concessions they made. At the same time, there are aspects of the agreement I do not like.
Pension liabilities for both our state employees and our teachers will play a significant role in budgeting for years to come, which is why I continue conversations with the Pew Charitable Trust and fellow legislators regarding further steps to address these issues. You can read the Pew analysis and policy recommendations HERE.
The budget remains unresolved. The Governor has promised to make further cuts to communities like Fairfield. I will continue to fight for our funding and push for a vote as soon as possible.
Finger-pointing does not resolve the issues or promote discussion - we must focus on solutions and resolution.
I hope you are able to enjoy the many opportunities our beautiful town and state have to offer at this time of year. Join me in rooting for Fairfield American who will play their first Little League World Series game in Williamsport this Thursday, August 17 at 3:00 p.m. on ESPN, and stay in touch with your ideas, comments and suggestions.
Cristin McCarthy Vahey