Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Are Democrats Running Out Of Tricks?

For more than a month, Democratic leaders in Connecticut’s General Assembly had been able to postpone a vote on a two year Democratic budget. Democrats did not bring their own budget to the floor for consideration, debate or a vote because they had no budget. Indeed, legislative Democrats avoided presenting a budget until the completion of secret so called “concession” talks with the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC) had been concluded.

The legislature officially closed down for business on June 7 and no budget had been brought forward, even though Republicans had been pressuring Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz to bring to the floor their own budget, which contained some impressive reform proposals. The fiscal year ended on June 30 without debate on a budget. On July 18, Democratic leaders bestirred themselves hours after rank and file members of the state’s employee unions had voted favorably on the concession deal struck between Malloy and SEBAC. The rapidity with which the deal had been accepted was taken by some analysts as a measure of both its favorability to union workers and the inordinate influence Connecticut employee unions exert over solicitous Democratic legislators.

According to a Yankee Institute analysis of the “concessions” made by unions, the three year wage freeze to which union members agreed is due to expire in July at the beginning of fiscal year 2019. The freeze will then be unthawed by a 3.5 percent increases for the next two years. Year one of the wage freeze has already passed, and in the last two years of the union-Malloy-Aresimowicz concession deal, state workers will receive salary step increases. In addition, state employees are due to receive “during the third year in which wages are supposed to be frozen… $2,000 lump sum payments, which will count toward their pensions next July as part of the concessions deal worked out between Gov. Dannel Malloy and union leaders.” Not too shabby a deal there; the devil lounges and takes his ease in such details as these.

The major union concessions are, for the most part, temporary and mild. The frogs in the fairy tale know how to take a step back in order to advance two steps forward.

There are compensating benefits to the union-Malloy-Aresimowicz deal that hardly break the back of labor, the most important of which involves the extension of contracts well beyond the termination point of lame-duck Malloy. Under the terms of the union “concession” package, future governors will be legally bound by the inflexible and expensive terms of contracts they will not have written. The sins of past governors will, so to speak, be visited upon them until the contracts elapse in 2027. Under the terms of the union “concession” agreement, union members will enjoy layoff protection through June 2021. The layoff protection clause will force future governors to resort to ruinous cutbacks should Connecticut suffer another recession, not an unlikely prospect. 

Republicans had included in their state employee labor reform budget provisions that would have reasonably diminished the outsized role played by unions in budget negotiations. In most other states, union salaries and benefits are determined by statute rather than legally binding contracts that leave it to courts rather than elected legislators to settle disputes between employee unions and elected legislators constitutionally authorized to form budgets. Such promising remedial Republican reforms were never brought to the floor for a discussion or vote -- because the unions had friends in high places. Malloy has marched in union strike lines and Aresimowicz is employed as an education coordinator by AFSCME, an influential and politically active public-employee union. Connecticut is one of only four states that smilingly permit union leaders to grab them by the throat when contracts have elapsed to enact from them measures that, cold blooded analysts would agree, do not advance the public good.

In the House, Democrats were able to snuff Republican proposals and pass by a slim majority the so-called union concession agreement fashioned by SEBAC, the union-employed Aresimowicz and a lame-duck Malloy. In the Senate, Republican leader Len Fasano has detailed his objections to the deal. Unless the correlation of forces in the General Assembly changes, Democrats may prevail there as well.

When Republican leader in the House Themis Klarides expressed her dismay concerning the unwillingness of progressive legislators to consider and debate on the floor of the House a Republican budget that courageously confronted Connecticut’s glide path downward -- “The reason our budget has not been called for a vote is that the majority fears it will pass” – Malloy, self-dubbed “the porcupine,” tossed his quills. Klarides also had characterized as “detrimental” the deal struck between Malloy, Aresimowicz and union leaders.

"She's ridiculous," Malloy responded. "Ask her what she would decide to do with the 16,000 additional employees that would become employed under Tier 3 that would cost us billions of dollars more to support, than by getting to an agreement today. I mean, I think people spout words, in some cases, not even understanding what they're saying."

In spouting words not understand, the porcupine has a sizable edge over Klarides. Fasano's Senate is the Alamo. Should the Senate fail to adjust the concessions deal, the state will not be saving billions of dollars; nor will it be able to halt the outflow of capital and people to other states. Instead, the Democratic Party hegemon will be raising taxes – again.

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