|We Make Connecticut Happen|
I'm a State Employee. I'm Not the Problem.
It's as predictable as autumn leaves falling. Connecticut's facing budget problems — again — and a bunch of politicians, editorial writers and antigovernment activists are pointing the finger of blame at state employees and their unions, calling for yet another round of economic concessions.
Making state employees the scapegoat is a convenient narrative, but a false one.
Twenty-eight years ago, I decided to pursue a career in public higher education. I am a product of Connecticut's public higher education system and walking testimony to the value of affordable and accessible public higher education for Connecticut residents.
When I was looking at colleges in high school, my test scores were high enough to allow me to choose from among many private and out-of-state schools, but I chose my hometown school, Central Connecticut State University, where I received undergraduate and graduate degrees in business administration. It's a decision I've never regretted.
I now have the privilege of working at the same public university from which I graduated. My chosen career has been in the field of international education, where I help students realize their dreams of studying abroad and then show them how to best highlight their global knowledge, skills and attitude on their resumes when looking for work.
I work at CCSU to enrich the lives of our students, not to increase a shareholder's return on investment or to create a lucrative tax dodge.
I am proudly joined by many other dedicated and hardworking public servants who spend their days ensuring that Connecticut's sons and daughters succeed in life. Some 11,000 students pass through our doors every year; it's our job to provide the educational programming and services that help them learn, grow and contribute to the state economy.
I have sacrificed time and again through multiple budget crises that were used to bludgeon middle-class state employees into making steep economic concessions from which the corporate elite and Connecticut's wealthiest residents have been immune.
Let me put this sacrifice in personal perspective. I've taken three wage freezes. I am paying more for my health insurance and on top of that contributing an additional 3 percent of my salary into a retiree trust fund.
My unionized colleagues and I have not done this happily, but we have done it willingly to be part of a broader solution to protect the valuable services our students need and deserve.
That leads me to ask: Why are state employees always being targeted for what amounts to a special tax increase in the form of wage and benefit givebacks? Why is shared sacrifice fine for middle-class workers in the public sector but not for big business and our wealthiest citizens?
According to the AFL-CIO's Executive PayWatch site, in 2014, the average pay for the CEO of a publicly traded company in Connecticut was approximately $16.7 million. The average worker's pay, by contrast, was approximately $49,200. That's not simply a ratio of 340:1; it's an indicator of the real wage and wealth gap afflicting Connecticut.
Who was at the head of the list? None other than General Electric's Jeffrey Immelt, who quietly pulled down a mind-blowing $37 million in total compensation while noisily decrying a legislative effort to bring fairness to the tax code through unified reporting.
As our state endures rolling budget crises that inevitably result from revenue shortfalls caused by disproportionate taxation, it's easy to point the finger of blame at public servants. It's easier still to pit public sector workers against their private sector counterparts in an effort to drive down everyone's wages and benefits.
So let's stop with the scapegoating and political gamesmanship. I am a middle-class citizen who pays her fair share in taxes and supports small businesses in my community. I am not the problem.
Lisa Marie Bigelow is associate director of the Center for International Education at Central Connecticut State University and president of the CCSU Chapter of AFSCME Local 2836, representing administrative faculty in the state university system.
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