Monday, July 31, 2017

Democratic Fault Lines In Connecticut

The SEBAC-Malloy-Aresimowicz agreement passed in the state House, moved to the State Senate and was affirmed there on a party line vote, Republicans opposing the backroom deal in both chambers of the General Assembly.

Hours before the Senate vote, leading Democrats, who have not  yet  submitted a budget, warned opposition party members that the earth would tumble into the sun if the SEBAC “concession” deal did not pass.

Not so, Red Jahncke pointed out in The Day newspaper: “The General Assembly can forge a budget without a new labor deal. Most state employees have been working without wage contracts for more than a year, including fiscal 2017, which had an adopted budget. And the employees’ omnibus benefits agreement (the so-called SEBAC agreement) runs for another five years.”

Attorney General George Jepsen, once chairman of the state Democratic Party, recently disgorged a legal opinion that inferentially supports a view presented by Republican leader in the Senate Len Fasano that the legislature may trim contractual obligations after a contract has elapsed. Jepsen’s opinion is unremarkable; it simply asserts that contracts are not binding beyond their termination date.

However, Governor Dannel Malloy insisted, “We have negotiated. Anything we do that abrogates that negotiation will be interpreted by the court as an intentional act destructive to the contracts and the relationship as it previously existed.” So then, it is Malloy’s considered opinion that a negotiated agreement not yet affirmed by the General Assembly is never-the-less legally binding. Political election jockeying generally trumps the greater good, Otto von Bismarck reminds us: “People never lie so much as before an election, during a war, or after a hunt.”

Before the vote on the poison pill SEBAC agreement, Fasano threw the gauntlet down to Democrats: “I defy the other side, if this deal goes forward, to figure out a way (to balance the budget) other than raising taxes … property taxes … sales taxes … and cutting social services … [Speaker of the State House Aresimowicz] has completely ignored me, he doesn’t have a budget, he wants this to go through because he’s part of the unions; he’s paid by the unions; he has a vested interest in this matter; he wants it [passage of the SEBAC agreement] to happen at all risks … to the State of Connecticut… so he can say ‘I protected the union deal and now we’re gonna raise taxes on the lower and middle income people.’”

No one on the Democrat side picked up Fasano’s gauntlet. Though rhetorical sneers were quickly directed at him, no leading Democrat in the General Assembly stepped forward to announce -- as had Malloy in two previous gubernatorial runs – that future tax increases were “off the table.”

Responding to a Republican measure that would have returned budget control to the legislature by allowing the General Assembly to change from contract to statute the manner in which the state controls the pensions and salaries of state employees, lame-duck Governor Malloy – approval rating 29 percent, the third lowest in the nation – asked, “What tools that I have to do the things I’ve done over the last seven years would they [future governors] not have? Len Fasano is tying himself in knots to not vote for this thing. But the reality is when I became governor, my ‘hands were tied,’ and I brought labor to the table, not once but twice. What tools would they not have that I currently have (emphasis mine)?”

That question is easily answered. In all but four states, Connecticut among them, legislatures may change salary and pensions through statute rather than contractual agreements, which throw legal disputes into a court labyrinth. The structural change contemplated by Republicans  would have removed from the General Assembly the political intimidations and threats long directed at them, the most important of which is this: if you – legislators constitutionally authorized to form budgets – do not accede to secret backroom deals arranged by the usual union-compliant chief executive and a union employed Speaker of the House, unions will sue in court to enforce the terms of the SEBAC-Malloy-Aresimowicz deal, which pushes out salary and pension agreements five years, handcuffing future governors until 2027. Under the deal approved by Democrats, courts, not legislators, will continue to decide ensuing disputes. And post-deal governors will not be able lay-off state employees to balance the state's chronically out of balance budgets, because there is a no-layoff provision  in the SEBAC deal.
Clearly, Malloy does not have at his disposal an effective tool such as that proposed by Republicans that would wrest budgets from the jaws of SEBAC. And he would not utilize such a tool in any case, because he and other progressive Democrats stand to benefit from the chains that sit lightly upon them. Cowardly legislators fleeing their own constitutional prerogatives are only too happy to rent out their constitutional obligations to unions and courts and progressive governors who now exercise plenary power over budgets that are perpetually in the red.

Such is Connecticut’s broken government that majority Democrats will refuse to fix -- until it can be shown, perhaps in the next elections, that the status quo is the enemy of the greater good.

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