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Derail Hartford's Pension Gravy Train

Hartford official proposes raising the retirement age for city workers

The Hartford Courant

November 14, 2010

Facing dire fiscal prospects for next year and beyond, the Hartford city council is poised to take a small first step in getting its extravagant pension costs under control.

Councilman Matt Ritter has proposed that future city workers be required to wait at least until they're 55 before they retire, and until 62 before they are entitled to receive a full pension. Now, most city employees can retire after 20 or 25 years of service, regardless of how old they are, and receive a full pension right away.

The proposal is aimed at non-union workers hired after July 1 of next year. It would not affect the 125 current non-union, unclassified employees, nor would it affect workers who are members of a union bargaining unit. But reining in all pension costs should be a city bargaining objective.

That's why this is a small step. Mr. Ritter said he hopes it will "lay a foundation" for restructuring union employment. That is devoutly to be wished. Though the city has a well-managed pension fund, growing obligations threaten to break its back. The pension commission has recommended that the city make a $30 million contribution to the pension fund next year a year when the city could face a deficit of $8 million to $20 million, depending on levels of state aid.

This is a matter of fiscal responsibility. Over the years, city leaders gave benefits instead of big raises. Salaries are now comparable to the private sector, for the most part, but the nonpareil benefits remain. Who else (outside of government) even has a pension, never mind one that is higher that his working salary? That's what some Hartford police officers enjoy, because overtime and private jobs are included in their pension formulas.

Acknowledging that a cop's job is a tough one, this is still absurd. Officers who retire in their 40s with pensions of more than $100,000 a year not unusual can live another 40 years or more and end up costing the city millions of dollars. The city can't afford this. It also doesn't do much for the city's policing effort to have most officers leave after 20 years and take their hard-won expertise somewhere else.

Increasing the retirement and pension age will make a big difference in curtailing costs and lowering taxes. (Even France raised the retirement age to 62.) Also, the city should implement a pension cap of no more than, say, 85 percent of working salary, as West Hartford has. Officials also need to take a close look at health care costs.

The push to rein in pension costs and examine health care expenses came from a fiscal analysis task force report completed earlier this year. Mayor Pedro Segarra would be well advised to reconvene the task force and keep it going until the budget is back under control.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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