Tim Herbst: The case for a new generation of Hartford outsiders

As our state grapples with yet another crippling fiscal crisis, insiders in Hartford refuse to break from business as usual and instead want struggling Connecticut taxpayers, towns and businesses to sacrifice more.

Catastrophic cuts to town aid and a new round of tax hikes are the solutions floated by Hartford insiders unwilling to lead by example and pursue real reform.

In Connecticut, home to the second-worst unfunded pension liability in the nation, I was disgusted to see both Republicans and Democrats in the Connecticut General Assembly vote to confirm two lawyers to judgeships who would be able to collect annual pensions of more than $100,000 a year for life, after less than four years of service to the state.

This year, I became even more outraged when I discovered that state legislators are able to pad their pensions by racking up mileage reimbursement payments. One legislator accrued over $100,000 in mileage over a ten year period to boost his pension.

This get-paid-to-show-up scheme is indicative of everything that is wrong with the culture under the Gold Dome in Hartford. Struggling Connecticut taxpayers, towns — and now hospitals — will be asked, yet again, to sacrifice more, yet the power brokers at the capitol remain unwilling to cede even the most excessive of perks.

Leaders of both parties have not embraced reform to a system that lets legislators count mileage reimbursement in their pension calculation.

This is not just about the money a reform of this posh benefit would save; it’s about setting an example of leadership.

But why should we expect different results from insiders who have been part of the problem? The solutions to our state’s crises are there — substantial pension reform, reform of state agencies, tax reform and a pro-business, pro-growth agenda that rewards investment, hard work and provides opportunity. What is missing is leadership, courage and an outsider perspective. If we want different results from Hartford we simply must send different leaders to Hartford.

Democratic leaders, who forced the two largest tax increases in state history in recent years, now breathlessly advocate tolls, new taxes and catastrophic cuts to municipal aid — a budget gimmick that will necessarily mean higher property taxes. Even worse, some out-of-touch legislators are now opening the flood gates to recreational drug use as a crutch to balance the budget — even as our state is gripped by an opioid epidemic.

The survival, though tenuous, of their grasp on one-party rule after seven years of disastrous job-crushing policies has left Democrats arrogant with power.

Some Republicans, meanwhile, are too accustomed to being the minority party and too accustomed to playing nice with their colleagues across the aisle in exchange for table scraps. They have forgotten what it means to fight for real reform and to win.

Fortunately, voters have begun to send a new generation of reform-minded GOP lawmakers to Hartford in recent years. A new wave of Republican legislators, not sullied by stewing in the Hartford swamp, are laboring to find serious reforms, cost-saving measures and solutions to include in the final GOP budget proposal.

But they are still too few and cannot bring the kind of fundamental change our state needs on their own. In order to tackle Connecticut’s serious challenges, we need to elect a new generation of leaders across state government. From governor to state representative, Connecticut voters should look to outsiders in 2018, not to retread candidates or well-connected insiders.

When I took office in Trumbull I inherited a broken pension system funded at just 27 percent and a town government bloated with patronage and big egos. I didn’t tiptoe around the edges. Instead, I took our town’s challenges head on. I set an example of leadership and refused a town pension. I also reduced the number of political appointees who were pension eligible.

All new hires now enter a defined contribution plan. We increased health care contributions for appointees across the board, including for the first selectman. During my first 100 days in office, we identified $1 million in operational savings in the town budget. We took difficult, bold steps, working with our labor leaders, to reform our pension system.

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