French Foreign Minister Pierre Laval was impertinent enough to suggest to Josef Stalin in 1935 that he should encourage Catholicism in the Soviet Union in order to appease the Pope. Stalin responded, “The Pope? How many divisions has he got?”
He hadn’t enough, apparently.
If in the unlikely event Governor Dannel Malloy should demand of public employee unions “shared sacrifices” they are unwilling to embrace, the question no doubt will be asked, “How many divisions has Malloy?”
He will not have enough.
Frustration with the Malloy-Sharkey-Looney budget is beginning to mount. That simmering frustration peaks out of the first line of a recent New London Day editorial: “Connecticut can't keep going on like this.”
Gubernatorial leadership, The Day notes in its editorial, “was notably lacking this time, at least on budgetary matters. Gov. Malloy, boxed in by his promise of no tax increase, handed the legislature a budget with huge cuts in social service programs that he knew it would never accept, but which freed him of initiating the tax increase. He took a hands-off approach until the closing days of the session. Only when the business community loudly objected to the big tax hike that hit them, did the governor utilize some political muscle, pushing lawmakers to trim $178 million from the $1.5 billion in tax hikes.”
Massive pension obligations, The Day asserts, are crowding out other needs. And the paper then administers a blow to the solar plexus of progressives in the state:
“Major, structural changes are necessary, such as regional services to eliminate rampant redundancy in municipal government in Connecticut; rebalancing negotiation rules that now tip in favor of labor; moving new state hires into 401(k)-type savings plans; and contracting for most social services through nonprofits rather than high-cost government agencies.”
For Mr. Malloy, this is forbidding territory. At the annual Jefferson, Jackson, Bailey Democratic Party fundraising dinner, Mr. Malloy threw his arms around state union members in attendance and fairly slobbered, “Other states are demonizing the men and women in labor. We are seeing a wholesale attack on labor." The Democratic Party and organized labor, the governor reassured state employee union members, “are bound to each other,” possibly in a fatal embrace, and it is this perception that makes Friends of Free Enterprise (FFE) in Connecticut a wee bit anxious.
The age-old relationship between unions and the Democratic Party, the governor reminded the celebrants, had in the past produced benefits enjoyed by all: child labor laws, equality for women in the workplace, minimum wage salaries. “I understand the tremendous sacrifices we are asking of people, from having to pay more in taxes to giving away benefits won at the negotiating table. But we will build a new economy in Connecticut." The “new economy” is the purist of utopian fantasies: It is not possible to invent new primary colors.
Mr. Malloy seems incapable of making a distinction between unionized public employee and unionized workers that do not draw their salaries from the public purse. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, no enemy to unions, had no difficulty making the distinction in a now often quoted 1937 letter to Luther C.Steward, then president of the National Federation of Federal Employees:
"All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters."
Let’s suppose Mr. Malloy were to “go Roosevelt” on the question of collective bargaining. Or more pragmatically, let’s suppose Mr. Malloy were to incorporate into his union negotiations tool box some measures that have been deployed successfully by other governors to reassert the democratic principal that informs Mr. Roosevelt’s letter: namely, that government, state and national, acting in the interests of “the whole people” should not surrender its constitutional prerogatives to state or national employee unions.
What then? What “divisions” could Mr. Malloy rely upon to support measures that would shift the balance of political power from state employee unions back to “the whole people?” Suppose Mr. Malloy wished to eliminate one tier of the state’s three tier retirement platform, retirement after ten years of state service -- a springboard that allows politicians retired from office through elections to leap into state service for the remainder of a ten year span, a ploy that permits politicians favored by the administration in power to collect lifetime pensions. Or suppose Mr. Malloy would wish to avail himself of a “claw-back” provision that would allow him to adjust contracts unilaterally in accordance with sudden and unforeseen budget dips. If Mr. Malloy seriously wished to regain control of the spending side of the state budget – as recommended by The Day and others -- what political divisions could he rely upon to snatch democracy from the jaws of state employee unions?
Mr. Malloy has alienated Republicans by crowding them out of budget negotiations; he has thrown in his lot with progressives in the General Assembly, thereby alienating pragmatic independents and the tattered moderate Democratic remnant; and he is a union man, from head to toe.
Without political divisions to support necessary spending reform, all of us must get used to the notion that Connecticut can and will “keep going on like this” -- however frustrating the ongoing destruction of Connecticut might be.