Republican mayoral hopeful Ken Johnson recently lashed into the man who defeated him in the last mayoral contest over Democrat Art Ward’s handling of a proposal to shift excess pension cash to pay for municipal retirees’ health care.
Johnson said that if taxpayers understood the GASB 45 issue “they would have already run the mayor out on a rail.”
Johnson and other advocates of the idea argue that taxpayers could save up to $2 million annually by tapping surplus pension money to pay for health care for retired city workers.
Ward set up a committee to explore the option. It is expected to make a recommendation Tuesday. The City Council has the last word.
"The cold reality is that this committee is a charade," Johnson told the panel recently. "This GASB 45 Committee serves no purpose, has no authority to make any decisions at all, and is a fraud perpetrated on both taxpayers and city workers by our mayor."
"The mayor created this committee as a 'feel good' for city workers because he desperately wants you to like him. City workers, my message to each of you is this: the mayor is playing you for a stooge," Johnson said.
"Let's put this in context," Johnson said. "The economy is in the toilet. We are looking for ways to run the city without raising taxes. City and state workers across Connecticut are already being laid off."
"While our city struggles to make ends meet without implementing layoffs, the mayor puts out a memo to stop buying food for meetings. So while he polices the $5 box of Dunkin' Donuts, here's millions and millions in tax savings staring us in the eye."
"There's millions to be saved and it hurts no one," Johnson said.
He said that if the "donut mayor" would back it, the change could be made.
Ward said that as he listened to Johnson's speech to the committee last week, he thought that Johnson was giving a political address in the wrong venue.
He didn't want to address the substance of Johnson's comments.
But Ward did say that without the advantage of sitting in the mayor's chair, Johnson's vision is "blurred" on the issues facing the city.
Johnson said, though, that the change in the pension money that he’s urging would produce “immediate tax savings” by simply shifting cash “from Column A to Column B” on a spreadsheet.
It’s more complicated than that, said Ronald Mulvihill, a benefits specialist for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers who is based in Washington, D.C.
The city “can’t just do it,” Mulvihill said, because there are many hoops to go through.
Johnson said that Ward --- “the captain of the ship” -- is trying to make people feel good “by personally monitoring donut consumption and fooling you into thinking you have a say on GASB 45, the $5 million tip of a $75 million iceberg” that is “directly in front of the ship.”
John Boi, a retired city worker and former head of the city’s Retirement Board, said he felt “quite disappointed” that Johnson decided to launch his mayoral campaign at at GASB 45 Committee meeting.
He said the panel’s chairman, T.J. Barnes, should have stopped Johnson from delivering the address.
Barnes, who heads the city’s GOP, did tell Johnson to wrap it up but didn’t prevent him from finishing.
In the speech, Johnson commended Barnes for having “the intestinal fortitude” to stick with the assignment he took on to chair the panel Ward created.
He also thanked Barnes for convincing the mayor to undo the first version of the committee – which Johnson called “a laughable mayoral flub” – that was stocked with city workers who opposed the idea from the start.
Contact Steve Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org