Keith Phaneuf of CTMirror, who rather enjoys letting cats out of bags, remarks in a recent column that Governor Dannel Malloy will have some leverage in his negotiations with unions next time around. These negotiations materially affect state budgets. While it is true that the governor’s constitutional responsibility ends with his presentation of his budgets to the General Assembly, the Democrat dominated body has been anxious in the past to satisfy its constituency, the most politically active part of which is state employee union members.
In the past, the strife between Mr. Malloy and SEBAC, the union conglomerate authorized to make deals with the governor – but not, significantly, with Republican legislators constitutionally charged with writing and balancing budgets-- has been something of a kabuki theater, featuring fierce, masked players swinging wildly at each other with paper swords. After the governor presents his budget to legislators, the budget often is reworked by legislators and then submitted to Mr. Malloy for his signature. During his first term, Republican leaders in the General Assembly having been sequestered, Malloy received from the Democrat dominated General Assembly plenipotentiary powers to make post-contract changes in the budget without bothering to resubmit the final product to the people’s representatives for approval. Mr. Malloy on that occasion took the political bullet for his Democratic pals in the legislature prior to an important election.
From all appearances, Mr. Malloy, approval rating 29 percent, appears to be readying himself to receive another political shot.
Mr. Phaneuf reports that Mr. Malloy’s budget includes “$800 million for state employee raises — an amount that far exceeds anything Malloy set aside before and doubles the funding his staff estimated was necessary just five months earlier.” The governor is seeking “$1.6 billion in union concessions to close major deficits in the next two-year state budget.” However, in order to obtain such concessions, “Connecticut may have to extend a controversial benefits contract — guaranteeing pensions and retirement health care to workers.”
Malloy’s stratagem reduces to rubble a position he took during every one of his campaigns that sloughed off both his pending responsibilities and those of the Democrat dominated General Assembly on the felonious John Rowland, who pushed twenty year union contracts well beyond his own gubernatorial terms in office. How bitterly Democrats during their campaigns complained of the yoke Mr. Rowland had put about their necks. What can we do, they sang in chorus, when Mr. Rowland and Mrs. Rell, both Republican governors, have bound our hands in union contract tape for twenty years out? It will and has been noted that Mr. Malloy, in his present budget, is proposing the same Rowland era union trade-off. Under Mr. Malloy’s kabuki plan, state employee unions are to concede to a $1.6 billion temporary cost reduction, in return for which Mr. Malloy will push their benefits package out well beyond the termination of present union contracts – without making any serious attempt to reduce pension costs.
Extended contracts, everyone knows, bind future governors to unaffordable contracts and crowds out spending that is necessary to run state government rationally and efficiently. We know that Democrats in the General Assembly who will sign off on the upcoming SEBAC-Malloy secret contract negotiations appreciate this point because they have been pressing it against Mr. Rowland and former Governor Jodi Rell relentlessly in all of their reelection campaigns. Connecticut’s pension debt is not our fault; we inherited these problems from previous Republican governors – whose budgets we rejiggered to satisfy union demands.
And here is the penultimate kick in the teeth: “Most funding for raises in the new budget,” Mr. Phaneuf reports, “is included in the Reserve for Salary Adjustments (RSA) — a line item commonly used to cover raises that might be awarded after the budget is adopted (emphasis mine).” When has this happened before?
And the final kick in Connecticut’s teeth? Mr. Malloy has proposed that municipalities absorb one third of the state’s second highest in the nation pension debt, which necessarily will entail a) an increase in municipal property taxes or b) severe reductions in spending that Mr. Malloy, SEBAC and union-reliant Democratic progressives in the General Assembly are unwilling to undertake.
One can almost see Mr. Malloy’s highly partisan chest expanding to receive future political bullets for his party, which has not, will not, and cannot, accept permanent union pension reforms without suffering a severe fall-off in union votes.
Viewing the coming crack-up from the Republican side of the political barricades, House Republican Minority leader Themis Klarides said, “Our biggest concern, overall, is the potential extension of the current SEBAC agreement … The whole key to our state’s future fiscal well-being is tied to that issue, and what concessions the governor might obtain in return,” a considerable understatement.
Pushing out contractual agreements with unions binds future governors to unaffordable contracts and crowds out spending that in the future must be reformed if Connecticut is to survive the winter of its discontent. Everybody knows this, including those legislators on the left, reflexively anxious to mollify unions, who will eagerly mortgage the futures of Connecticut’s children, the brightest and most enterprising of whom will pull up their roots and move to a less tax punishing state. The fix that fixes nothing already is in, and everyone knows it.