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Editorial State needs to swallow cures to its ailments

December 2, 2018

The Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth is a team of doctors offering a second opinion on the state’s financial health.

It supports a diagnosis we all suspected: The state has the flu. It’s had it for some time.

The patient must be willing to take a course of corrective action, and not just sip from a cup of warmed-over chicken soup poured from a dusty can in the back of the cupboard.

The commission suggested several remedies earlier this year at the request of state lawmakers — and was ignored. It didn’t help that union leaders immediately hit the delete key on the report, which suggested substantial concessions.

Though their assigned work was done, members of the panel went rogue and produced a second report a few days ago. We implore Gov.-elect Ned Lamont and the next General Assembly to study it with open minds.

Commission leaders should have sought input from union leaders when they were paneled a year ago, though the result would likely have been the same.

We don’t blame union members for feeling they keep getting tasked with doing heavy lifting to dig the state from this financial abyss. But let’s stop ignoring the reality that it’s time for them pick up the shovels again.

Members of the commission estimate fixed costs will consume 53 percent of the state budget in two years. There is a broad division in philosophies about pension debt. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy treated pensions as a handshake agreement that must be honored. Some candidates in the crowded field to succeed him posited that the only way out to save any of it was to take a cleaver to the piggy bank.

Put yourself in the shoes of the person expecting the pension. Perhaps you don’t have to imagine.

Meanwhile, the debt keeps growing.

Among recommendations in Version 2.0 of the report is to boost teacher pension contributions from 7 to 9.85 percent, with other state employees kicking in an additional 2 percent.

Part of the reasoning is that average annual wages for state employees were $69,963 in 2016, compared with a Northeast average of $60,105.

Union leaders do themselves no favors by responding with bluster about raising taxes instead.

Everyone involved likes to point to potential savings in the budget. That will never happen without work force reductions, which would take a greater personal toll on union members than returning to the bargaining table. The commission’s suggestion is that a salary freeze be extended, except for a 2-percent hike in 2020 to account for the contribution increase.

Malloy never got credit for twice negotiating concessions from the unions regarding wages and benefits. The unions don’t get any either.

But the unions promote an Us. Vs. Them narrative. When it comes to curing Connecticut, there is no “Them.”

If we’re going to shake this flu, we’re all going to have to swallow some medicine that doesn’t taste good.

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