Musto: ARC funding should not require an ordinance
To the Editor:
Democratic governments must enact laws that reflect the will of the people and obey our basic governing principles. The ARC vote by the Trumbull Town Council on March 7 broke both of these rules.
The Council passed an ordinance requiring the town to fund our pensions in the amount of the Annual Required Contribution, or ARC, in every budget. ARC funding is a good idea — it means we put aside some money now so we can pay our pension obligations later. But we should not require it by ordinance.
Here’s why: The ARC is calculated by Trumbull’s financial advisors. It’s based upon how much we expect to earn on our investments. Generally, when the stock market declines the ARC increases. If Trumbull is forced to fund the ARC in down markets, we must either raise taxes at a time when our citizens are already suffering or cut funding for other services like education, police and infrastructure. That’s why this ordinance is a bad idea: it ties the hands of our elected officials, preventing them from responding to the town’s specific needs.
Our citizens know this, and recently rejected a similar provision. When this was on the ballot in 2014, the people voted no. The ballot provision had small differences, but the basic premise was identical. Having lost at the ballot box, the council has simply re-characterized this as an ordinance. Rather than accept the people’s choice, the Council ignored it.
This ordinance also violates our basic principles of town government found in our Charter. Trumbull’s Charter is our town Constitution, while the ordinance is a law. You can’t change the Constitution with a law. Our Charter gives the First Selectman, Board of Finance and Town Council specific jobs in creating budgets, but the ordinance changes those jobs. It forces the First Selectman to accept an ARC number calculated by a financial advisor — an un-elected, un-appointed person who may not even live in town. Although the Charter says that the Board of Finance can change any budget item by a simple majority vote, this ordinance requires a supermajority vote to change ARC funding. It also requires a supermajority on the Council. None of this is contained in the Charter. Our Supreme Court has said: “One legislature cannot control the exercise of the powers of a succeeding legislature.” If the ordinance conflicts with the Charter and prevents future Councils from doing their jobs, it is illegal.
If our representatives decide to fund the ARC that’s great – they should when they can. But their duty is to exercise their judgment and serve the people who elected them. They should make decisions and justify them, not robotically use an advisor’s number.
The simple solution: Mr. Herbst should veto the ordinance or call for its repeal. He and the town attorneys should review the legality of changing the budget process this way. He should listen to the people who have already rejected this provision at the polls. It’s not too late to correct this mistake.