Governor Lamont and the General Assembly may deserve more appreciation than they’re going to get for steadily reducing the insolvency of the state government employee pension fund and the pension fund the state maintains for teachers. In the last five years state government has put an extra $7.6 billion into the funds, bringing their unfunded liabilities down to $39 billion.
That’s still an appalling figure, and there is no guarantee that the unfunded liabilities won’t worsen anyway, since a sharp decline in the stock and bond markets is always possible. But state government can’t control that.
The strengthening of the pension funds has been enabled in large part by the billions of dollars in “emergency” money from the federal government, but it took much political courage nevertheless. For there is constant clamor to increase spending on state and municipal payrolls, social programs, and infrastructure, and little clamor to strengthen the pension funds.
Those who clamor to increase spending would be more persuasive if they could identify areas where state government could economize, allowing money to be redirected to their preferred undertakings.
But the essential reform with the state pension funds is not to strengthen them but rather to eliminate government employee pensions gradually. For state government’s recent virtuousness with pension funding almost certainly won’t last. Eventually Connecticut’s political leadership will slip back to its old ways, underfunding the pensions so the clamor for spending elsewhere can be appeased, with pension liabilities transferred to taxpayers yet unborn.
Real pension reform would be simple enough. Salaries for government employees could be raised modestly in anticipation of the gradual elimination of their pensions, with employees advised to put the extra money into their own retirement accounts.
Additionally, government employees could be put into the Social Security system, thereby increasing political support for the system and reducing the economic class divide between government employees and those of the private sector.
But pension equality between government employees and private-sector employees would be politically impossible. Government employees are the most powerful special interest, which is why they long have been treated better than private-sector employees, and it would be surprising if they didn’t strive mightily to keep it that way.
Except for state and municipal government employees getting another paid day off, mail not being delivered, banks being closed, and an annual parade in Bridgeport, Columbus Day was hardly noticed in Connecticut last week.
Now that Columbus has become politically incorrect, the necessity of his holiday here seems to be only that he was an Italian who a century ago was claimed as representative of all people Italian descent (though he sailed to expand the Spanish empire) and that Connecticut has the highest percentage of people of Italian descent of any state.
Politically correct states with fewer people of Italian descent have been replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day, as if most people living in the United States weren’t born in the country and are thus “indigenous” too and as if the people Columbus encountered in the New World were all “noble savages” and never fought for territory before the Europeans arrived — indeed, as if fighting for territory isn’t the history and even the present of mankind.
Politicians are always looking for groups to patronize and pander to even as the country is dedicated to equality — “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” So why persist with an official holiday celebrating one ethnic group when there are no other such holidays (unless Juneteenth is to be construed as meaningful for Black people alone) and indeed could never be other such holidays, the country having so many ethnicities that the calendar wouldn’t have room for them all?
These days Columbus Day is meaningful mainly for people who work for the government, who already get plenty of discretionary time off. So it should be repealed and not replaced.
Chris Powell has written about Connecticut government and politics for many years. (CPowell@cox.net)