Saturday, February 19, 2011

Union Contracts Will Determine Connecticut’s Fate

Whither Connecticut?

All the statistics point downward.

Connecticut is first in the nation in per capita debt. Our pension liabilities would make a Croesus blush. Very little has been done to address the problem of long term spending. Negotiations with powerful unions are pending.

Compared with hard edged races in New Jersey and New York, both Connecticut gubernatorial candidates in the last election ran soft campaigns. Neither Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey nor Andrew Cuomo of New York were shy in telling people during their campaigns precisely what they hoped to do to address their state’s chronic problems -- cut spending, no tax increases.

For this reason, it may be said that Mr. Christie and Mr. Cuomo have clear mandates. Governor Dannel Malloy, on the other hand, let it be known that he would both raise taxes and cut spending if elected, but his campaign fell far short on particulars, and most attempts to draw specifics out of him were artfully deflected.

Mr. Malloy’s was a classic Connecticut campaign: Don’t make promises that time and chance may veto; don’t bind yourself to specific solutions. Mr. Malloy drew votes heavily from the cities, which secured him the election; but most of the towns went for his Republican opponent, Tom Foley. The question therefore arises: Does Mr. Malloy have a mandate from the people to govern? And the answer is a qualified “Yes.”

Mr. Malloy’s mandate comes from his status as governor, but it does not arise from affirmations made during his amorphous campaign and affirmed by voters. Apart from his pledge to both raise taxes and cut spending, Mr. Malloy could not have received from most towns in the state an affirmation to specific taxing and spending proposals he never made in his campaign.

In the months following the gubernatorial campaign, an anxious state awaited Mr. Malloy’s budget. The destiny of states is written plainly in budgets; here there can be no ambiguity, because a budget is a revenue and allocation plan that shapes the future.

Governors in states contiguous to Connecticut turned in hard budgets. Mr. Malloy’s budget plan is a near fifty, fifty proposition of “shared sacrifice” that calls for massive tax increases, relative to other states, and relies upon presumed spending cuts that will arrive, in this the best of all possible worlds, when Mr. Malloy, Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, once a union steward, President of the Senate Don Williams, always a reliable union supporter, conspire in closed meetings to determine whether unions give-backs will be substantial or cosmetic, permanent or temporary. Mr. Malloy’s proposed tax increases are substantial and permanent.

In this regard, Connecticut has a lamentably deficient history replete with governors abjectly conceding to long term union demands while accepting from unions short term savings. The present Democratic triumvirate – Malloy-Donovan-Williams – will be negotiating union contracts for years in the future, and the destiny of Connecticut will be shaped by these contracts.

Why? Because it is union contracts, both on the state and municipal level, that shape Connecticut’s budgets.

A contract is a promissory note. Increasingly, politicians across the state – Mayor John DeStefano of New Haven is the latest progressive mugged by reality – are beginning to embrace the shattering perception that Connecticut cannot satisfy promises ALREADY MADE in union contracts. The state has long since arrived at a point in which its “poor box,” money putatively dedicated to help the needy, is being drawn down by state workers whose benefit and salary packages far outstrip those who are paying taxes.

Despite Mr. Malloy’s valiant pledge to make government transparent, the state budget, clearly the most important single piece of legislation affecting Connecticut’s future, will be pre-shaped in negotiations the governor will conduct with the dominant Democratic Party in the legislature, and none of the contract negotiations conducted with unions by the governor’s office will be presented to the general public until they are completed, after which will taxpayers be served with -- the bill.
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