Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Rats In The Attic

"Sometimes you take a good piece of legislation, and you tack on a rat. This is some huge rat." -- Robert Genuario, Governor Jodi Rell’s budget director.

Actually, said State President Pro Tem Donald Williams in a disquisition worthy of a 12th century Dominican, or a modern lawyer, the rat that Mr. Genuario thought he smelled in Clean Contracting Bill was a mythical rodent.

Mr. Williams was not quite certain whether Mr. Genuario's metaphor was purposeful or not – It may have been negligence -- but both he and State Senator Donald DeFronzo called a news conference to protest the “lack of truthfulness” on the part of Republicans and call upon Governor Jodi Rell to “stop the campaign of misinformation against the Clean Contracting Bill passed by the General Assembly” which, Mr. Williams did not note in his press conference, is controlled by majority Democrats.

Mr. Williams was particularly disturbed that the possibly mendacious misinformation campaign waged by Republicans against a provision of the Clean Contracting Bill especially favorable to unions, a key constituency of the Democrat Party, continued after he had gone through the trouble of “setting the record straight.” And so, he and Mr. DeFronzo stepped forward to make some sharp and necessary distinctions between Republican “myths” and Democrat “truths.”

The problem with the analysis is that some of the “truths” put forward by Mr. Williams are stranger than fiction. For instance, Mr. Williams strenuously denies Republican claims that a provision of the larger bill he calls “the privatization protection section” was not, as Republicans claim, “put in at the behest of labor unions.”

Even though a scouring of Mr. Williams’s e-mails may not disclose a direct request from union leaders that he include in the Clean Contracting Bill a provision that would “set standards” for state contracts favorable to unions, this does not mean that Mr. Williams is not acting in concert with union wishes.

It is noteworthy that no union leader has yet stepped forward to denounce the provision as hostile to union interests, and for a very good reason: The provision advances union interests.

One liberal political commentator views the provision as a redraft of an earlier bill vetoed by Governor Rell, and she provides a short history of the redraft.

Union leaders earlier had asked Democratic leaders to fashion a bill that would declare a two year moratorium on the privatization of state services. That bill was vetoed by Mrs. Rell, who argued that the measure would put at risk services currently being provided through contracts with private firms. Since such contracts are negotiated by the executive department, legislation depriving the executive department of its constitutional prerogatives might be, not to put too fine a point on it, unconstitutional.

Democrats rolled with Mrs. Rell's punch and came back with the present provision that, in the words of Mr. Williams, “sets standards” for contracting work.

The union friendly provision, according to the liberal commentator, “scraps the moratorium idea and replaces it with a requirement for a cost-benefit analysis before a state service can be farmed out. The analysis must look at the effect that privatization would have on public health and safety. Also, the 59-page bill says bidders must make an effort to retain the affected state agency's ‘qualified employees’ and pay fair wages. Lastly, it exempts nonprofit providers until Jan. 1, 2008, with a couple of exceptions.”

The provision has driven a wedge between Democrats and groups previously supportive of liberal interests, such as the Connecticut Community Providers Association, whose president and CEO, Terry Edelstein, offered the following comment: "Despite assertions by the proponents that the ... legislation includes protections for community human service providers, we see no such language in the bill. We continue to believe that its provisions would devastate agencies and hamper their ability to serve nearly half a million children and adults across the state."

What is true of roses is true of rats. A legislative “rat” by any other name is still a rat – provided the provision is potent enough to sink the bill. The whole point of a rat is to avoid an honest up and down vote by including within a bill at least one provision that cannot be accepted by the opposition.

Since the Democrat dominated legislature can override a gubernatorial veto, Mrs. Rell should invite Mr. Williams to detach the privatization protection section from the Clean Contracting Bill and reintroduce it as a separate piece of legislation. In that way, both parties will get the reforms they claim they want.

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