The Increasing Cost of Living and Learning in Connecticut
To my constituents with kids in college or those preparing for that next step, I’m sure you have lost some sleep worrying about the financial end of this exciting time in your son or daughter’s education. Even for those planning to send their children to our state’s flagship public university, UConn, the reduced in-state tuition rate is no consolation (Over $120,000 over four years including tuition, housing, meal plans and mandatory fees). So why is a college degree so expensive even for hardworking taxpayers hoping to catch a break through Connecticut’s college and university system? One reason is the lavish benefits paid to school administrators.
We understand and accept that certain things come at a cost; housing, cars, higher education, and so on, but it must be within reason. Unlike the real estate and automobile industries, which tend to be competitive by nature of the free market, the price of a college education has risen exponentially due to costs that can and should be controlled – costs that are kept artificially high by collective bargaining. To add fuel to the fire, the Board of Regents just voted to increase tuitions rates by five percent at four state universities – ECSU, SCSU, WCSU and CCSU. UConn could be next.
A March 28th CT Mirror article revealed several UConn administrators, including President Susan Herbst, are eligible to receive large payouts for unused vacation time. For Herbst, this equates to $156,279, which is in addition to her yearly earnings that are in excess of $800,000. Several administrators were permitted to carryover unused vacation time beyond the 60-day limit on more than one occasion. For the record, the rules only permit a one-time carryover in excess of 60 days. This is an abuse of the university’s policy, taxpayer dollars, and the tuition money paid by parents and/or their students. Why do rules exist if they are not adhered to or applied fairly?
How is it fair that instate families are paying for a $120,000 degree, which in many cases may exceed their annual income over four years, while the school’s leaders are making several times that amount? No wonder the system is broken. No wonder so many of our students are left with crippling debt.
The same problem plagues our state government where the taxpayers, even those without college-aged children, are faced with some of the highest taxes in the country. Connecticut’s perpetual budget deficit has one common denominator House and Senate Republicans have pointed out for years – fixed costs and increases for state employee compensation, benefits and pensions, and unfunded mandates to municipalities.
I want to preface this with two points; (1) the work performed by our state’s educators and public employees is important and valued, and (2) these individuals are also taxpayers who deserve equal representation. No one is denying their contributions to the State of Connecticut, nor the fact that they should be compensated fairly for their outstanding efforts. With that said, I find issue with the lack of representation given to the vast majority of CT taxpayers who are not state employees – those who will never enjoy the lavish benefits and salaries often provided to their public sector counterparts. Fortunately for most of our state employees, they have public unions going to bat on their behalf.
So who represents the private sector? The seniors? The individuals and families living on fixed incomes? The small business owners trying to stay afloat, compete with the big corporations and keep their employees on payroll? Who is advocating for them? Their elected officials, and it is a job that I take very seriously.
Unfortunately, several of my colleagues in the House and Senate Democratic majorities have not been the fiscal watchdogs they claim to their constituents and, in many cases, have accelerated our fiscal demise with their votes on key proposals. On March 27th, the CT House passed H.R. 21, which awarded $18,000 bonuses, 5.5% pay raises and guaranteed job security for the state’s Assistant Attorneys General and members of their staffs. As a reminder, this was in addition to two similar contracts approved earlier this session, along with another passed by majority Democrats just this week for the state’s tax attorneys. This latest bill, H.R. 23, awarded these individuals, making an average salary of $107,000 with a 15% raise, bonuses and more fringe benefits their private sector counterparts rarely see. More contracts and arbitration awards are expected to come before the General Assembly before session ends. No wonder Connecticut’s balance sheet is a mess.
It’s worth noting these bills were primarily passed along party-line votes with all Republicans in opposition. I thank the few Democratic members who realized our spending habits have become our Achilles Heel, and voted with us. Sadly, despite their help, we just didn’t have the common sense votes to block these contracts.
The private sector has all but done away with pensions and premium health insurance plans because companies found that these benefits were not sustainable. If only Connecticut’s largest employer, itself, could see the same lesson.
Governor Lamont’s budget plan calls for new taxes as well as the unprecedented expansion of the sales tax, highways tolls on all vehicles, and teacher pension cost-sharing with municipalities that will inevitably result in property tax increases on the backs of our residents. In the legislature, House and Senate Democratic leaders have introduced their own toll proposals, tax increases and mandates. Why? For one of several reasons, to fund the expensive state employee contracts they continue to pass with salary and benefit increases.
Our state government needs to be accountable to the people it represents. We know we cannot afford these contracts based on current projections so why are we approving them? I will continue to fight against these unreasonable contracts because this is the only way to make our state more affordable for everyone.
State Representative Rosa C. Rebimbas
70th House District – Naugatuck