Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern and Mark Connolly recently traded jabs at the New Hampshire Progressive Summit Gubernatorial Forum and the NH State Employees Association (SEIU 1984) Gubernatorial Forum. Both Van Ostern and Connolly are vying for the Democratic nomination in the race to be the next Governor of New Hampshire.
(Note: I was not at the SEIU 1984 Forum so I can only report about what I saw at the NH Progressive Summit Forum, though I heard that similar comments were made at both forum’s.)
During the NH Progressive Summit forum, Van Ostern brought a couple of things to light. He mentioned that up until the mid 2000’s Connolly was a prominent Republican.
Connolly did not deny that he was, for many years, a Republican. He stated that when he was a Republican State Representative the Republicans were the real “progressives in the NH House.” He continued by saying that the Republican Party essentially moved away from him and he could no longer support them.
Another thing that surprised people at the Progressive Summit forum was that Connolly helped Governor Judd Gregg with a report on reforming New Hampshire government. The report, The 1991-1992 Task Force on New Hampshire State Government Operations, was produced by a group of prominent businessmen in New Hampshire.
Much of the report is full of grand ideas of streamlining government operations and eliminating duplication within the state agencies. However some of the report specifically targeted state employees and retirees.
“The state should, at minimum, revise its policy regarding full payment of health and selected other insurance benefits for future retired employees and, further, consider eliminating the state’s contribution entirely,” the Task Force recommended.
The Task Force also recommended an independent third party to be involved in the collective bargaining process to show that the “extensive benefits” offered to state employees for “non-competitive wages no longer applies.”
The reported states:
“For purposes of collective bargaining, the state should retain an independent body to identify the full cost of personnel, including payroll, insurance, retirement, insurance for retired employees, vacations, holidays, and sick leave. This comprehensive package of payroll and benefits must be weighed against the economic and competitive realities of the state. In doing so, the Task Force believes the state will recognize that the justification for the philosophy that state employees are entitled to extensive benefits to compensate for non-competitive wages no longer applies.”
In a 2011 report by USA Today, New Hampshire’s state employees were ranked 27th overall in pay when compared to state employees in other states. On the surface this is good but when compared to private sector compensation, New Hampshire state employees were over $1,800 below their private sector counterparts.
When asked for comment on the report and the specific recommendations listed above, Connolly’s campaign sent a copy of a letter, addressed to the members of the State Employees Association, where Connolly referred to his “opponent’s” comments as a “baseless attack.”
In the letter Connolly states:
“In 1991, I was asked by by my then-employer, Chubb Life in Concord, to serve on a thirteen-member panel assembled by the Governor, Speaker of the House, and Senate President to study state government and how it operates. This group met throughout 1991 and 1992 and ultimately the Task Force on New Hampshire Government Operations published its report on how to make government more efficient. It included important suggestions that I believe would strengthen our state and its employees, such as a four-year term for Governor and the implementation of a stronger sexual harassment policy for state employees.
One of the many additional recommendations made by this group in the fifty-page report held that the state should “revise its policy regarding full payment of health and selected other insurance benefits for future retired employees and, further, consider eliminating the state’s contribution entirely.” As a former state employee, I did not agree with this recommendation then and I do not agree with it now. Contrary to the attack made on me that evening, I did not recommend this, nor did I support it. Any contention that I did specifically support this recommendation is simply false.”
When asked why Connolly would sign on to a report that included sections he did not agree with, Colin Pio, Connolly’s Campaign Manager, explained that task force members broke up into different teams and specifically tackled different sections of the report. The separate sections were then compiled by the Chairman of the Committee and submitted to the Governor, the Senate President, and the Speaker of the House.
Pio explained that Connolly specifically worked on the section of the report that “focused on the Executive Branch and how it was structured.” Pio also stated that to the best of Connolly’s recollection, “there was no sign-off process for individual members.”
In the letter Connolly added:
“Public employees are the backbone of our state government, and I am proud to have served as one for fourteen years. I have always believed we must honor our contract with you and your fellow members. Your retirement benefits, your pension, and your healthcare were promised to you when you started your service and, as Governor, I will stand up for your collectively bargained rights and your secure retirement each and every day.”
Only time will tell whether state employees believe Connolly’s explanation on his involvement on the 1992 Task Force or whether a 24-year-old report has any significance today.
Attached is a copy of the 1992 Task Force recommendations and Connolly’s letter to the members of the State Employees’ Association.