NOW YOU KNOW
8:52 PM EST, March 8, 2013
You are right to wonder why a hefty tax increase and claims to have gotten spending under control have not brought stable finances to state government. Sometimes a jarring example will help explain something as complex as Connecticut's troubled, growing budget.
Imagine snagging a $100,000 a year pension after only a few years of work. It's happening now in Connecticut. Democratic and Working Families Gov. Dannel P. Malloy nominated 15 lawyers to serve as judges of the Superior Court, though there appears to be no shortage of judges. Three of those nominees are in their 60s.
The oldest of the three, at 67 years old, will in three years receive a pension of two-thirds of his $147,000 annual salary, or about $100,000 a year for life. It would be hard to think of another institution with such a generous and costly pension arrangement. Connecticut law awards a judge a pension of two-thirds of his annual salary when he turns 70. It does not matter if a judge served 20 days or 20 years, the judge wins the pension lottery. Life spans being what they are, especially for the college and graduate school educated, the taxpayers probably are on the hook for well over $1 million for each judge. In addition to receiving his pension, the judge may supplement his income by more than $1,000 a week by carrying on some duties after retirement.
A judge's work is to address fairness and proportionality in reaching decisions and imposing penalties. This pension bonanza for only a few years of service seems disproportionate. It widens the gulf between those who fund government and those who extract an unfair benefit from it.
There's an easy solution. The General Assembly could adopt a sliding scale that would balance the years of service with the pension benefit, like the rest of the world. Our leaders will enact many laws this session. That would be an easy one, easier than providing judges the millions in raises they want.
Legislators have spent a lot of time in the past week discussing, whispering and cringing at the bewildering statements that state Rep. Ernest Hewett, D-Groton, has made on the sensitive topic of sexual harassment. It has been an unattractive display that must make any parent with a child working as an intern at the Capitol apprehensive.
Hewett, serving his fifth term in the House, made a lewd comment about a snake under his desk to a 17-year-old girl testifying about her experience at the money pit named the Connecticut Science Center. Others took note and acted. Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey did not dither. He removed Hewett as one of his seven deputies, denying Hewett a $6,446 annual stipend above his $28,000 base legislative pay.
Hewett's subsequent comments on the temptations of female interns erased any ambiguity he claimed for his public hearing remarks. The stories flowed. In an institution that likes to mask its troubles, state Rep. Mae Flexer, D-Danielson, deserves full marks for brave candor. She disclosed that Hewett's leering behavior toward women is well-known in the Capitol village.
It may be that women at the Capitol have had enough, though the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women seemed oddly muted in its reaction. Open season on interns should not begin when legislators and staff members step onto the marble floors of the Legislative Office Building.
State Rep. Edward Moukawsher, D-Groton, seemed defiantly oblivious to Hewett's actions and reputation. He wrote a letter to his local newspaper, The Day, wondering what all the fuss is about. Moukawsher declared Hewett the victim of injustice.
The Moukawsher madness allows us to end, however, on an uplifting note. In 2011, Moukawsher ran for judge of probate in his home territory to fill a vacancy caused by the death of the incumbent. In the Democratic primary, Moukawsher, whose name is known in the region, received less than 6 percent of the vote. That's a Monster Raving Loony Party number on the fringes of a British election result.
The people often know best. A judge can do real harm. In southeastern Connecticut, Democrats knew Moukawsher and a judgeship should not be joined.
Kevin Rennie is a lawyer and a former Republican state legislator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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