POWELL: New Haven chief 'retires' at 49 to pension bonanza

Published on Wednesday, 13 January 2021 20:49
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By CHRIS POWELL

Everyone agrees that Tony Reyes has been a great police chief in New Haven, having been appointed in March 2019 after nearly two decades of rising through the ranks of the police department. But the city will lose him in a few weeks as he becomes police chief at Quinnipiac University next door in Hamden. This is being called a retirement, but it is that only technically. In fact it is part of an old racket in Connecticut's government employee pension system, an abuse of taxpayers.

Typically police personnel qualify to collect full state government and municipal pensions after 20 years, no matter their age. Reyes is only 49, so he easily has another 15 years of working life ahead of him even as he collects a hefty pension from New Haven.

The chief's salary is $170,000 so his city pension well may be half of that each year. After a week of requests City Hall was unable to provide an estimate of the pension, but then maybe city officials were too busy helping their Climate Emergency Mobilization Task Force figure out how to remove carbon from the atmosphere. In the meantime maybe the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can handle New Haven's pensions.

Nor would Quinnipiac disclose what it will pay Reyes, though the university is a nonprofit institution of higher education whose tax exemption comes at the expense of federal, state, and Hamden property taxpayers. But since a Quinnipiac vice president is paid nearly $600,000 a year, Reyes probably won't starve there.

In the absence of accountability from city government or the university, here's a guess: Reyes will draw an annual pension from New Haven of $80,000 per year while Quinnipiac pays him $150,000 a year. After 15 years at Quinnipiac, Reyes may get another annual pension of $80,000, plus $30,000 a year in ordinary Social Security, for total retirement income at age 65 of close to $200,000 annually - as if half that wouldn't be lovely.

Pensions are ordinarily understood to be to support people whose working capacity is ended or substantially diminished. But pensions in state and municipal government in Connecticut often provide luxury lifestyles during second careers and after. Meanwhile mere private-sector workers are lucky to conclude their careers with enough Social Security and savings to scrape by on their way to the hereafter.

This scandal could be remedied easily, with enormous savings and greater retention of the best personnel. State and municipal legislation and contracts could restrict government pension eligibility to the customary retirement age of 65 or to the onset of disability before that. But that would require elected officials who had the wit to alert the public to how it is being exploited and the courage to stand up to the government employee unions.

It also would require news organizations to report the scandal in the first place. But it seems that not even New Haven's own news organizations have inquired about the police chief's pension bonanza.

WEED VS. VAPING

The new session of the General Assembly will be intriguing for many reasons, maybe most of all for plans to legalize and tax marijuana while outlawing flavored "vaping" products and prohibiting the sale of tobacco products in stores within 5 miles of schools, which might limit tobacco sales to kiosks in the middle of a few state forests.

Both campaigns seem to be originating with liberal Democratic legislators. The House chairman of the Public Health Committee, Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, an advocate of outlawing flavored vaping products, says, "There's plenty of documentation about how exposure to addictive products at a young age makes it hard for people to extricate themselves."

Of course marijuana also can lead to addiction to other drugs. Some people deal with and outgrow dope smoking, but some don't.

Drug criminalization long has failed and probably has done more damage than illegal drugs themselves. But it is silly to pretend that outlawing "vaping" products will protect kids any more than outlawing marijuana has done.

Contraband laws just create black markets that make the law futile. If Connecticut opts for legal marijuana while prohibiting "vaping" products, it will be only because legislators believe there's much more tax revenue in the former than the latter.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.



Posted in The Bristol Press, Column, Editorials on Wednesday, 13 January 2021 20:49. Updated: Wednesday, 13 January 2021 20:51.