Goodbye Connecticut!

After living for over nine years in the historic and beautiful Black Rock section of Bridgeport, my wife, Mary, and I are leaving the Constitution State. We are saddened to do so because we love our home, our neighborhood, our neighbors, and the state. However, like an increasing number of people, the time has come to cut our losses and move closer to family. In addition, it is not clear that current state and local leaders have the willingness and ability to make the tough choices needed to create a better future in Connecticut, especially in connection with unfunded retirement obligations.

Hopefully the below ideas will help to stimulate action on some much needed reforms over time.

Connecticut, Bridgeport and several other cities in the state face serious financial and competitiveness challenges that are not being effectively addressed. As a result, due to poor leadership and failed policies for many years, Connecticut has gone from a top five to bottom five state in competitive posture and financial condition since the late 1980s. In more recent years, this has resulted in an exodus from the state and a significant decline in home values.

Connecticut still has significant potential, but that potential will never be realized unless the state reduces tax and regulatory burdens, improves its transportation systems and critical infrastructure, rationalizes its welfare systems, addresses the serious educational opportunity gaps that exist, rightsizes state government, modernizes government human capital practices, and revitalizes its troubled cities.

In order to do so, Connecticut, and many of its major cities, MUST restructure current pension and retiree health care plans in a reasonable, affordable and sustainable manner. This represents the fiscal cancer that must be addressed in a timely manner at both the state and local level in order to create a better future. Deferring contributions and engaging in pension obligation bonding at this time are just two examples of kicking the can down the road on needed reforms.

Bridgeport also has potential but it needs to reject political machine-controlled and patronage-oriented government, significantly reduce its property tax rate, and capitalize on its comparative advantages. In order to do so, it should bring a first class resort/casino to the city, more aggressively pursue enterprise/ opportunity zones, revitalize its waterfront, capitalize on its deep water port potential, and consider filing for bankruptcy in order to restructure its finances.

Several other cities in the state also need to consider the bankruptcy option. After all, any municipality with a mill rate over 40 is not competitive and huge unfunded retirement obligations will only make things worse over time absent real restructuring.

As an example of the competitiveness challenge facing Connecticut and its cities, during the past eight months, Mary and I have already seen that the property tax rate on our new home in Alexandria, Va is one third of Bridgeport, electric rates are half, laundry and dry cleaning is less than half, auto and homeowners insurance are one third less, there are no mandatory automobile tolls, and gasoline is 10-20 percent less. In addition, the quality of life and public services in Fairfax County are as good or better than anywhere in Fairfield County and the quality of life in Alexandria is excellent.

And where did Amazon decide to put their second headquarters? Three and one-half miles from our Alexandria home! As a result, unlike Connecticut, homes prices are rising.

From an integrity perspective, Connecticut needs to join the 46 other states that ban convicted felons for public corruption from holding public office, adopt much tougher conflict of interest rules at the state and local level, and recognize the fact that public sector unions have too much political power and have run the state into a fiscal chasm. It’s time to get rid of the nick-name – Corrupticut!

Finally, since we will be exiting the state this month, I have resigned my position on Connecticut’s Municipal Accountability Review Board (MARB) that currently oversees three troubled municipalities (i.e., Hartford, West Haven and Sprague).

Reforms are needed to make the MARB more effective. For example, any municipality with a mill rate over 40 with large unfunded retirement obligations should automatically be subject to MARB oversight should the MARB deem it appropriate.

Based on this criteria, Waterbury, Bridgeport and New Haven and selected other smaller municipalities should be subject to MARB oversight. The MARB also needs to focus its efforts on municipalities with serious competitive and structural financial challenges rather than short-term challenges.

MARB should only provide temporary state aid to municipalities that achieve actual reductions in recurring spending and actual increases in their taxable grand list. It also needs to recognize that requiring tax increases in cities with very high and non-competitive tax rates will only make things worse over time. Its focus needs to be on real reductions in spending and stimulating economic growth so tax burdens can be lowered over time.

Ultimately, the state should cap property tax rates and provide meaningful property tax relief to seniors. This will take time but needs to be accomplished in order to revitalize troubled cities and retain seniors after they retire. After all, the number one tax concern for Connecticut residents is property taxes rather than income taxes. Such is clearly the case in troubled cities.

Mary and I truly hope that these and other state and local challenges will eventually be addressed for the sake of our friends, neighbors and the citizens of Connecticut, Bridgeport and other troubled cities. They deserve no less.

Finally, after deciding to leave Connecticut, I accepted a Distinguished Visiting Professor position at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD starting in August. I am looking forward to this unique opportunity to serve my country again and to help prepare our nation’s future leaders. As a result, it’s time for us to say, goodbye and good luck Connecticut, and Go NAVY!

David M. Walker is the former U.S. Comptroller General.

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  1. I can’t say I blame him. Democrats, with their unholy union alliance, have accelerated Connecticut’s fiscal death spiral. Its only a matter of time before the exodus of enough wealthy and middle class taxpayers make the continued Democrat tax and spend calculus untenable.

  2. Clearly the pension and health care obligations are unsustainable. The few times I have attempted to have a conversation with folks that are benefiting from the system I’m repeatedly told they have a contract and are entitled. When I respond that working in the private sector I’ve had contracts literally torn up in my face or companies move out of state taking my business with them. Bottom line is I will pay for my health insurance and retirement, but not mine and someone else’s. We simply can not afford the current broken system. If people chose to work for the state or municipality the health care and retirement plan needs to be 100% on them. If not we are going down a road to bankruptcy. At 60 years old I’m still working while some folks my age are collecting state funded retirement with lifetime health benefits that my taxes are supporting. Something is definitely wrong with this picture.

    1. Any pension and healthcare benefits that are unsustainable were not funded properly; that is the fault of the employer not the employees.

      Many people want the salaries and benefits of our civil servants but not the work conditions or responsibilities of their duties.

      Any citizen can apply for a civil service job. The job openings, requirements, benefits, and responsibilities are published public information. The entire matter is much more open and transparent than anything in the private sector.

      People regret their own career choices or failures and then seek to exact their pound of flesh from government employees.

      If someone wants the benefits of a particular job then they must obtain such employment.

      1. And how long has Mr. Aresimowicz, Union Leader, presided over the house, pushing through the budgets that did not properly fund these responsibilities?

      2. I don’t know. You tell me. You’re part of the electorate that put him there.

  3. Those who would ignore warnings of “Fiscal Armageddon” for our State of Connecticut by the former US Comptroller General are either ignorant, stupid, bias or selfish. Mr. Walker has a better grasp of finances than the entire Legislature, and any member of the Lamont Administration. For you non-believers. Ask yourself, “Which one are you?”

  4. Great article. I’m a yankee through and through. If you asked me 1 year ago. I’d told you I’m a yankee for life. Never going south or west. I have to say in the 5 years I’m going to leave CT. I’m tired of paying for the debts these folks just keep handing us. My kids are in high school and I’ve already told them they will need to leave the place they grew up in and love as again this secession they passed the debt to them. Very sad what has become of CT

  5. Unfortunately everything you wrote is correct. Connecticut’s solvency is uncertain and future opportunities are bleak – especially for small businesses. Mr. Walker your viewpoints were always excellent, unemotional and based on data not the nonsense we see from our political “leaders”. Good luck in your new state and the U.S. Naval Academy is lucky to get you.

  6. Great article showing why it’s time to leave. I say this as true yankee. I never thought the day would come that i would leave but its just getting too hard and expensive to be here.

  7. Mr. Walker must be kidding in what he writes. He is comparing Alexandria, Virginia, a very affluent suburb of Washington DC to Bridgeport, a poor major city with known issues. Bridgeport’s home values and median income are less than half of Alexandria’s. A more fair comparison would be to Stamford or Greenwich. He claims his taxes are significantly less but is he comparing similar homes that are similar price? A $500,000 home in Bridgeport is very different than a $500,000 home in Alexandria so how can he compare them. He notes his insurance is lower but insurance is a function of the crime rate. Had he lived a few miles west in Fairfield or Westport, his insurance cost would be significantly lower. Finally I would point out that according to Sperling’s Cost-of-Living Calculator, the cost of living in Alexandria is 43% higher than Bridgeport. How then is Mr. Walker seeing such great savings? Who is wrong?

    1. In his screed we can see David Walker mashing the sour grapes of rejection by the Connecticut electorate into a sour whine.

  8. We left 7 years ago. The jobless recovery left my wife and me little choice. We moved to low tax Massachusetts. I’m not kidding. What used to be called taxachusetts now has significantly lower taxes than CT.

    Working in the booming life science and tech segments in the Boston area, our income and savings has roughly doubled.

    We spent more on our home 7 years ago than we would have liked to, but its now worth 80% more than we paid for it. Its now a significant part of our retirement planning.

    In all the move has been great for us. We still visit CT regularly to keep in touch with friends and family. We’ve made great new friends. Our kids go to nationally ranked public schools. Its a win/win/win. Don’t get me wrong, CT is a wonderful place. Its the state GOVERNMENT that is the problem.

    We may retire to CT, despite its high cost of living because we love it so much. Which partly illustrates the problem. CT is becoming the kind of place where you can’t live, grow, and prosper. Its becoming the kind of place where you bring money you made somewhere else, to enjoy the beauty and good people.

  9. This self-aggrandizing diatribe quotes the obvious and then offers solutions to protect the monied classes at the expense of the Middle and Working Classes.

    The author defends the Rich and Upper Classes as if he was one of them because he is. Protect the Hedge Fund Managers of Fairfield County at all costs especially and even more so when it is The People who will bear the cost.

    Exactly what is to be expected from an acolyte of the Bush family; there are no friends of the Working Man to be found there.

    1. Its the exodus of the middle class, including the young adults, that will be the death knell of this state. Its well underway and no amount of class envy on your part will stop it.

      1. Those who whine about the salaries and benefits of civil servants are the ones engaged in class envy.

        It’s my suspicion that if you look in the mirror then you’ll see Envy staring back at you.

      2. What I see is someone fed up with our state being blown up by politicians in Hartford who have more allegiance to the 100,000 union workers who elect them than they do the other 3.4 million of us. I hope you enjoy your pension when its worth cents on a dollar.

  10. A stagnant CT economy for an entire decade amidst the most vigorous post War economic expansion speaks volumes. As do CT’s income and property tax rates. Largely needed to finance among the nation’s highest paid public State and Municipal Unions. As do our declining real estate values statewide and numbers of homes on the market. Witness 4,000 + in the Gold Coast according to Zillow.

    So what to propose ? Keeping the CT Budget and taxes unchanged for a few years would demonstrate some “serious interest”. As for our major cities they’ve been declining since WWII having never made transition to vibrant peacetime economies. Experience elsewhere suggests reviving long depressed cities takes decades under inspired leadership.

    Now see the positives. Wealthy still aspire to the Gold Coast. Yale is one of the world great University and Medical complexes. EB, P&W and Sikorsky still shine. And the small CT river towns are unmatched anywhere for genteel retirement living.

    The sad part is that our children are exiting too for better opportunities. And most of us will retire elsewhere (see Bloomberg’s recent report). CT had a good run. Without modern cities we’ll continue to be hard pressed. Our largest industry are the public Unions. So the future is a mixed bag.

  11. I cannot disagree with Mr. Walker….I sit on a pension board of a small town in northwestern Ct and do see how the state’s financial situation impacts our finances and our tax rates. We have managed to keep the mill rate under 30 by spending money where it can do the most good and making the hard choices which the state, alas, does not seem to have the political will to do. Being fiscally responsible means doing both revenue production and cost management in a responsible way, with the politics of public employees getting in the way. Several public employees pensioners have also moved out of the state—this is not just rich /poor issue.

  12. It’s easy for people to blame civil servants for the fiscal problems in Connecticut but it is not accurate.

    The culpability for Connecticuts financial problems lies with those who hired the people that control the public purse.

    Put the blame where it belongs, on the people who have the real power, the electorate.

    The People keep electing people who give away their money.

  13. I’m not sure where you are getting your information but it’s just not correct. I’ve been a state employee for 10 years and my first raise will be on July 1st. Please explain why the state should be responsible for funding private pensions. Also, please cite where you got your information that …”state workers make on average 20% or more than the average worker in the private sector…”. I left the private workforce for a state position and took a pay cut of about 25%. I understand that people are getting more used to “alternative facts” but please, how about the truth just once in a while?!?

    1. Correct. In my position. I earn 45% less than in the private sector for my position and skills. My fringe benefits don’t make up the difference I still come out 15% in the hole.

  14. Totally agree with this article. Connecticut is in serious financial trouble with thousands leaving the state each year, including us in 2016. The politicians are not public servants, they are self-serving, narcissistic, myopic officials that are “leading” the state towards a fiscal cliff. Yet, they keep getting elected. Those who feel they have no voice and can get out ahead of the disaster to come, are leaving in droves.

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