Sunday, January 29, 2017

Looney’s Poison Pill For Democrats

“A budget deal that closely resembles the 2011 budget agreement,” will be good for what ails Connecticut, said Martin Looney, the President Pro Tem in the Connecticut Senate, according to an NBC Connecticut story. “A budget deal that closely resembles the 2011 budget agreement might be needed in 2017,” said Mr. Looney.

What ails Connecticut is excessive spending, pretty much everyone in the state now agrees – even Governor Dannel Malloy, who is responsible for both the largest and the second largest tax increases in state history. The first of Mr. Malloy’s tax increases was a not inconsiderable part of the 2011 budget deal that Mr. Looney would apply as a curative to Connecticut’s continuing ailments. Connecticut’s three major tax increases, the first promulgated during the administration of Governor Lowell Weicker, father of Connecticut’s income tax, served as political balm to union friendly governors and legislators. The tax increases relieved politicians of the necessity of making permanent cuts in spending which, to no one’s surprise, has increased in tandem with the tax increases. The two go together like the proverbial horse and carriage. So long as Connecticut’s budget carriage carried surpluses, the road was straight and carefree.

Mr. Looney does not mention that the 2011 budget agreement was an arrangement concocted between Mr. Malloy, the unions whose contracts he was affirming, and progressive, tax happy Democrat legislators in the General Assembly – but not Republican legislators, who were pretty much told by Democrats to go take a hike.

During this period Brendan Sharkey served as House Speaker and Don William served as President Pro Tem of the Senate; both have since left the General Assembly. Mr. Looney has assumed the Senate President position, and Joe Aresimowicz, education coordinator  with AFSCME, an influential public-employee union, is now House Speaker. When all the confabbing had ended, no Republican fingerprints were found on the final budget products. Politically, the Malloy/Sharkey/Williams/SEBAC budgets proved to be poison pills for Democrats. Owning the gubernatorial office for the first time since 1991 and having dominated the General Assembly for a half century, Democrats owned their product, and their budgets gave way to repetitive deficits, business flight and the economic degradation of Connecticut, which has yet to fully recover jobs lost in a recession that officially ended more than seven years ago. The tax increases likely prolonged Connecticut’s recovery from the recession and signaled to businesses in and out of state that Connecticut -- chronically unable to control spending and employee union pensions, salaries and benefits – was no longer prime real estate for business expansion.

Nor has Mr. Looney acknowledged that the General Assembly in 2011 abdicated its fiduciary responsibilities by bestowing on Mr. Malloy what amounted to a plenipotentiary power to readjust a budget AFTER had been approved without resubmitting it to the legislature for final approval.

“During his first term in office,” Connecticut Commentary noted, “the General Assembly granted to Mr. Malloy what Chris Powell, the Managing Editor of the Journal Inquirer, called a ‘plenipotentiary power’  to negotiate contracts with unions, Connecticut’s fourth branch of government, represented by SEBAC. In essence, the cowardly Democratic dominated General Assembly approved a preliminary budget, permitted the Governor to revise long-term contracts with unions that materially affected the bottom line of the approved budget and, crucially and fatally, the General Assembly did not, as it is constitutionally obliged to do, approve and sanction the final budget-busting product of the secret negotiations. In other words, the cowardly and duty-fleeing General Assembly simply transferred to Mr. Malloy its own imprescriptible constitutional powers, after Mr. Malloy told Democratic leaders in the General Assembly he would take the pre-election political bullet for them.”

Legislative changes in the General Assembly – Republicans have made major gains in the House and the Senate is evenly balanced for the first time in decades – along with Mr. Malloy’s abysmally low approval ratings should signal to Democrat leaders that it ain’t 2011 no more.

A study undertaken by the Yankee Institute points to a “stark difference between Connecticut’s labor laws and that of 46 other states.” Pension funding in Connecticut is not governed by statute but by contract negotiations hammered out in back rooms between its governor and labor union leaders. To put it plainly, leaders in the General Assembly like Mr. Looney – they are legion – have abdicated their fiduciary responsibilities to unelected union representatives. While it is true that the legislature may vote down such agreements, this seldom happens because there is a coward’s clause in the statute that allows such agreements to take effect if the General Assembly does not vote on the redrafted contractual agreements within 30 days. These statutory provisions should be repealed, and state government should reclaim control over its budgets by a statutory re-design that would replicate provisions operative in 46 other states.

If the state budget were controlled by statutory law rather than contractual law, necessary adjustments in budgets could more quickly and efficiently be determined by legislators rather than judges, and deficits could be discharged by a General Assembly that is not a maid-servant to powerful state employee unions. The change would restore a supremacy in budget negotiations insisted upon by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, no enemy to unions.

Roosevelt refused to allow public employees to unionize at all because, he said, “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 (emphasis mine). 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."

The laws enacted by the people’s representatives in Connecticut would have much greater force if they were changed to allow the state to adjust budgets through statutory authorization rather than through negotiated long term changes in contracts. And if Mr. Looney and other Democrats in the General Assembly appreciated the “nature and purposes of Government” as understood by FDR, they would make these necessary statutory changes to reclaim budgetary authority from THEIR employees.

But they won’t -- because the cowards in the General Assembly are afraid to govern.

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