Tuesday, August 01, 2017

The Morning After

“Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce” – Karl Marx 

The labeling worked. Almost immediately, contract negotiations between Governor Dannel Malloy and SEBAC head honchoes were tagged “union concessions.”

There were, to be sure, some concessions made by unions in the final agreement, but these concessions were offset by positive union gains. And in the end the gains considerably outweighed the concessions, mostly because the gains were permanent, while the concessions were, for the most part, temporary. Unions, for instance, agreed to forgo raises for three years; on the third year, however, 3.5 percent raises would kick in, and likely remain kicking well beyond the termination of the contracts in 2027. Most working stiffs in Connecticut, who doubtless will be tapped to pay for future union wages and almost inevitable tax increases, have not seen raises for years, and their medical and prescription co-pays are much higher than the co-pays written in contract-stone in the union’s  “concession agreement.”

Past practice in the General Assembly suggests that 2027 will not mark the end date of union gains. The Assembly is a conventicle of cowards made more cowardly by a rule that allows union employee agreements to pass into law without a formal vote. If the legislature does not vote on union contractual agreements thirty days after the agreement appears on the legislative calendar, the contractual agreements are approved without a recorded vote in the chamber. Because there is no calendar during special sessions, pro-union Democratic legislators were not spared the indignity of a recorded vote this time around. The current vote is an exception to the rule; for the last 30 years union contracts had been approved in the General Assembly without a formal vote, which might have damaged legislators standing in elections.

The Malloy-SEBAC agreement contained a no-layoff provision. Republicans raised some hackles among union-friendly progressives when they pointed out that the adopted no-layoff clause would deprive future governors of a useful tool should the state stumble into another recession.

As a general rule, Connecticut has been last-out of recessions and, in fact, the state still has not recovered all the jobs it had lost during the current recession, which ended nationally in June 2009, eight years ago. Under the terms of the approved SEBAC agreement, Connecticut governors will in the future be forced to resort to more painful means of balancing budgets --  such as raising taxes, a measure that even  the state’s tax-prone governor, author of the largest and the second largest tax increases in state history, said he would decline to employ. Like President George Bush the elder before him, Malloy vowed during his campaign that tax increases would not be used to balance Connecticut’s books. A few weeks ago, summoning up his courage, the unpopular lame-duck Malloy astonished Connecticut’s press corps by vowing to avoid “revenue increases.” However, the lame campaign promises of governors lapse when they decline to run for office again, and Connecticut’s legislature is full of progressives  for whom no tax increase is enough.

Most Republicans believe there will be revenue increases in Connecticut’s future. It’s a matter of simple math. The usual revenue wells having dried up, union friendly legislators will in the future be forced to increase taxes. Temporary concessions simply cannot fix permanent problems.

The legislative session that accepted the union-friendly agreement hammered out by SEBAC and Malloy in a backroom deal had its most telling moment when a freshman Republican legislator blurted out the truth on the floor of the decorous Senate.

The Hartford Courant noted the farce in a screamingly amusing aside:

“Sen. George Logan, a Republican freshman from Ansonia, said he appreciates and respects state workers, including some of those who are part of his family. But he was critical of union leadership and what he said was their too cozy relationship with Democrats in the legislature.

"'State employee union leaders have an unhealthy grip on some members of this legislature,' Logan said.”

Logan instantly was dressed down by decorous Democrat Senate leaders. Senate Pro Tem Martin Looney asked Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman – who broke the 18-18 tie in the Senate that sealed future union benefits – to chastise the freshman senator.

"I know that you’re new here and we welcome you here,” Wyman said to an abashed Logan. "I'm asking you not to do that again.'' In fact, Logan had blurted out the truth in a chamber in which the truth is a wayward stranger.

Following the partisan approval of the union “concessions,” the Courant noted, “the union members broke out into loud cheers and applause in the Senate gallery, prompting Wyman to censure them for breaking decorum in the chamber.”

The first reproval was a tragedy, the second a farce, for this reason: the lusty applause from union members on a back-room deal tagged by Connecticut’s media as a “concession agreement” signaled that the concessions were, in truth, union gains.

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