To the editor,
I’m sure people with kids in college or preparing for that next step have lost some sleep worrying about the financial end. Even for those planning to send their children to the state’s flagship public university, UConn, the in-state tuition rate is no consolation. (Over $120,000 over four years). So why is a college degree through Connecticut’s system so expensive? One reason is the lavish benefits paid to school administrators.
We understand and accept that certain things come at a cost, but it must be within reason. 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.
A March 28 CT Mirror article (Herbst, other UConn officials, racked up $214,000 of unused vacation time above policy limit) 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. 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.
How is it fair that in-state families are paying for a $120,000 degree 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 state government where the taxpayers 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.
The work performed by educators and public employees is important and valued, and these individuals are also taxpayers who deserve equal representation. No one is denying their contributions to the state, 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 taxpayers who are not state employees. Fortunately for most 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? Who is advocating for them? Their elected officials.
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 27, the House passed H.R. 21, which awarded $18,000 bonuses, 5.5 percent pay raises and guaranteed job security for the state’s assistant attorneys general and members of their staffs. This was in addition to two similar contracts approved this session, along with another passed by majority Democrats 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 percent raise, bonuses and more fringe benefits their private sector counterparts rarely see. These bills were primarily passed along party-line votes with all Republicans in opposition.
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.
Gov. Lamont’s budget plan calls for new taxes and the unprecedented expansion of the sales tax, highways tolls on all vehicles, and teacher pension cost-sharing with municipalities. 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.
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?
Rosa C. Rebimbas
The writer is a Republican state representative for the 70th House District.