Thursday, December 01, 2005

Shame Me Twice, Shame on Me: Rell, Democrats and Unions

In announcing her veto of a Clean Contracting Bill that contained, as Republicans believe, a legislative “rat” contrived by Democrats to aid unions and sink the bill, Gov. Jodi Rell brought to a press conference two “disabled” Connecticut citizens who stood beside her as she made her remarks. The presence of the two mentally retarded citizens caused a certain amount of discomfort among leading Democrats.

Democrats had smuggled into their Clean Contracting Bill a provision triggering an audit whenever the state enters into a contract worth more than $500,000 and seeks to privatize services that are “substantially similar to, and in lieu of services provided by employees of the particular state agency.” Viewing the provision as a legislative raid on executive powers, the governor vetoed the bill.

Rep. Christopher Caruso, who has gained a reputation as an ardent Democrat proponent of campaign finance reform, asserted that the two retarded citizens had been used – one might almost say “abused” – as props. Mr. Caruso said, “To use mentally retarded clients at a political event - and that's what it is - is shameless. Have we no decency? Using the mentally retarded that way is cruel and wrong. I'm sorry.”

Through a spokesperson, Rell answered, “The parents, the clients, and the providers were the faces of those who would be the most adversely affected by the legislation the governor vetoed. They wanted to be there. They wanted to be seen and heard and wanted the governor to veto that bill.”

Republican leader Robert Ward said he was shocked “that the Democratic leaders believe retarded citizens should be hidden from public view. The Democrats have become arrogant. These charges are just another example of that.”

Republicans did not insist that the noble sentiments expressed by President Pro Tem of the Senate Donald Williams and Mr. Caruso concerning the shameless use of the disabled should guide Democrats the next time a strike is declared at a nursing home and unionized workers leave their abandoned and vulnerable charges at the mercy of non-unionized temporary workers called in to tend to their needs.

The pursuit of the moral high ground, especially as a prelude to a campaign in which Democrats hope to unhorse a Republican governor, is always highly entertaining. But the closet “debate” on The Clean Contracting Bill, such as it was, missed the target.

Relative to other states, Connecticut is permanently stuck in economic doldrums. The national economy easily shook off the last recession several years ago; Connecticut has not. Among fifty states, recent studies show, Connecticut is dead last in job production, and the state is losing its entrepreneurial talent to other states that, many economists feel, are more hospitable to business interests.

What measures do the governor and state legislators intend to take to restore Connecticut’s once competitive and now flagging position in the global economy? And, more importantly, how are prospective new industries likely to view Connecticut’s struggle – assuming there is to be a struggle – to hoist itself up from last place by its own bootstraps? These are question that should be constantly in the minds legislators charged with crafting bills to solve one or another of the state’s myriad problems. Not only in politics is it true that perceptions are sometimes more important than realities; the maxim is doubly true in the marketplace.

The eyes of the world and of other states are on us. What have those eyes seen so far? Following the institution of a new income tax, they’ve witnessed a doubling of the state’s budget, which means a doubling of state spending, and a shift in collections from consumer sales taxes to less business friendly income taxes that drive up wages. Even the father of the state income tax, former senator and governor Lowell Weicker, emerged from obscurity a little over a year ago to register his dismay that legislators had so quickly consumed their new financial resources.

“Where did it all go?” an astonished Weicker asked.

Viewed against the backdrop of steadily increasing taxes and spending, every straw may be seen as breaking the camel’s back – including the provision of a Clean Contracting Bill that will make it less possible for Connecticut governors to reign in spending by challenging the political dominance of unions in the public arena. The eyes upon us are certain to see the Democratic legislature’s political favors for state unions as yet another nail in Connecticut’s coffin.

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