Teacher pension bill could raise taxes

In addition to taking public testimony about proposed school regionalization on Friday, March 1, the state legislature’s Education Committee will concurrently take testimony about HB 7150, a bill that would increase Wilton’s teacher pension sharing costs.
Governor's Bill HB 7150, An act Implementing the governor’s budget recommendations concerning education, was introduced by House members, Rep. Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin) and Rep. Matt Ritter (D-Hartford), along with Sen. Martin Looney (D-New Haven) and Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) who proposed two of the school regionalization bills.
“Connecticut is only one of two states that pays local teacher pensions. I think that’s an important point,” said Duff.
Wilton’s state Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-Wilton), a member of the Education Committee, said she is opposed to the bill. “In essence, this will result in an automatic increase in property taxes,” she said.
The bill would increase the town’s portion of teachers’ pension costs, and would be phased in over three years, going from $463,000, to $956,000, then $1,389,000.
“The increased contribution will create holes in the town budget. The only way to get that missing money would be to raise property taxes,” Lavielle said.
First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice expressed concern about the bill on her Facebook page.
“We have been expecting this push down for a number of years,” Vanderslice said. “The State’s contribution, on behalf of Wilton teachers, has grown from $7.1 million in FY2015 to $14.7 million in FY2018.”
She said there is plenty of blame to go around for these costs, starting back in the 1930s when the state began offering pensions, but didn't make the required contributions.
Lavielle agreed. She said one problem is that towns negotiate teachers’ salaries and benefits, but the state negotiates the pensions.
“Wilton negotiates salaries with unions locally, and they add in cost-of-living factors. Health care is done locally, too. But the pension is done at the state level and the state sets a contribution rate for the teachers and an annual contribute rate for the state. The rate the teachers pay is set on a statewide basis, not a local basis,” she said.
Vanderslice said it was a poor decision to negotiate pensions separately from wages and other benefits, but that is what is happening.
“If Wilton is going to be forced to pay, our elected representatives must have a say in the negotiations. They currently do not,” she said.
Reviewing the bill, Vanderslice said non-distressed municipalities must contribute 25% of the plan’s normal (current teacher) contribution, plus 1% for every 1% the municipality’s average teachers’ salary exceeds the state median pensionable salary.
According to the governor’s budget, Wilton’s average teachers’ salary exceeds the mean by 25%, so Wilton’s share would be 50% of the normal, Vanderslice said.
Editor's Note: This story was corrected to include the name "Governor's Bill" and add a statement by Rep. Duff.