Friday, May 20, 2016

The Pink Union Elephant In The Room

Mark Pazniokas of CTMirror points out that executive director of AFSCME Council 4 Sal Luciano is not just “another union bigwig.” He is House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz’s boss: “Aresimowicz is the education coordinator for AFSCME, a union that paid him $97,000 in 2015, more than double his $43,000 compensation as one of the highest-ranking members of the part-time Connecticut General Assembly.”

Mr. Aresimowicz is on a fast track towards becoming the next Speaker of the House in the Democrat dominated General Assembly. If successful in his venture, he will be replacing Brendan Sharkey, a small business owner who recently announced he is calling it quits. Mr. Sharkey has been put through the wringer during the last few budget sessions, which have been, to use a polite word, fractious.


The expanding progressive wing of the state Democratic Party has shown it does not intend to go quietly into Governor Dannel Malloy’s “new reality.” Sounding a note taken from the playbook of Bernie Sanders, the socialist Democratic Presidential contender, progressives in Connecticut’s General Assembly want to bathe the rich in progressive taxes to discharge Connecticut’s persnickety and recurring deficits. Mr. Malloy, the architect of Connecticut’s largest and second largest tax increases who recently bid goodbye to General Electric, has vowed not to increase taxes further. In the pre-election period, he has stoutly defended his approach. What is the point of killing the cow you’ve been milking for the last quarter century? After elections, however, politicians generally revert to type.

There are a number of questions that ought to be considered before January, when the Speaker is to be installed. Does it make sense to put an arsonist in charge of the fire brigade? Assuming Mr. Aresimowicz is successful in his quest, whom will he serve: a) his state, b) his Governor, the nominal head of the Democratic Party in Connecticut, c) his union or d) his boss? Can any responsible politician serve two masters? Mr. Luciano already has announced his profound displeasure with Mr. Aresimowicz, who in his capacity as House Majority Leader has moved Mr. Malloy’s political agenda forward, disappointing soak-the-rich union bosses such as Mr. Luciano.

“I was really upset at his vote; I am really upset, but he’s got to be the one to look at himself in the mirror” Mr. Luciano confided to CTMirror.

State employee unions, everyone knows, have in the past and will for the foreseeable future play an outsized role in the formation of Connecticut’s legislative agenda, most especially salary and pension contracts that affect budgets, taxes and spending in Connecticut. The state’s capital city, Hartford, immured in debt, may be on the brink of bankruptcy. The problems besetting Connecticut’s larger cities are the same as those that recently have driven Mr. Sharkey off the public stage. His tenure, Mr. Sharkey told reporters, had been marked by “difficult decisions… trials and tribulations” and the obvious “stress evident in the last few years.” It’s always tough to be caught between a rock, duty to one’s state, and a hard place, duty to one’s nurturing special interests.

During these anxious years, both Connecticut and Hartford have exhausted the means of raising revenue to meet the insistent demands, among others, of unions. When newly installed Mayor of Hartford Luke Bronin proposed the creation of a commission that might have wrested from state employee unions a power and authority that properly belongs to the chief executive of the city – an operative measure of control over labor costs -- he was sternly rebuffed. The revenue well in Connecticut is depleted everywhere, but most especially in cities dependent on property taxes. Nearly half of Hartford’s property cannot be taxed, and the city is too small to generate sufficient tax funds to meet the real costs of municipal government.

And the state finds itself in a similar position. It cannot soak the rich without driving entrepreneurial capital into more welcoming states whose legislation is not shaped by union operatives employed by the executive director of AFSCME Council 4. That is why Mr. Malloy has brought down the hammer on spending and vowed not to increase taxes, no doubt disappointing Mr. Luciano.

Some prominent Republicans who have been bartering with Mr. Malloy for a place at the budget negotiating table since the beginning of his administration seem to be nonplussed with the possible elevation of Mr. Aresimowicz to Speaker of the House, a gatekeeper position that determines which bills will be considered by the General Assembly.

If efforts in Connecticut are to be directed towards convincing businesses that the state has amended its profligate ways, perhaps legislators should be more concerned with appearances, a hard lesson recently learned by Mr. Bronin.


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