Friday, February 06, 2009

The Budget Jihad: Union Opposition

On Friday, Feb 6, hours after Governor Jodi Rell had laid out her budget proposal urbi et orbi, Daniel Livingston, an attorney for the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, professed that unions were disappointed in the governor’s no tax budget.

Livingston told the Hartford Courant, “The direction she is pushing the budget (sic), we believe, is irresponsible. It’s an anti-stimulus package. It’s the traditional Republican playbook. It’s not the time for the same old, same old. It’s going to make the economy worse.”

The unions also wrote a “Dear Jodi” letter to the governor in which they said, “It is time to say openly and frankly to the people of this state that revenue enhancements [union verbiage for tax increases] should be raised in order to close the budget gap and preserve public services.”

No one who has been watching the news should be surprised at these entrenchments. Unions have issued previous communications of the same sort, one of them just before Rell’s address in which they threw down their gauntlet. In that communiqué, it was made very plain that any co-operation on the part of the unions would be keyed into a non-negotiable demand that Rell should do not harm to state services.

This back and forth would strike many people as the thousandth act in a play called “The Same Old, Same Old.” This is the way the play has opened and closed for decades: Union negotiations have driven up wages and benefits, which present no problem so long as prosperity reigns from sea to shining sea; then something happens that eats away at the wages and security of non-union workers, prompting the government to ask for sacrifices; the unions issue communiqués saying that one of their demands is that the government should make no demands.

We are all used to these rhetorical fisticuffs.

It’s pretty clear that the unions want the bitterest of sacrifices to come mostly from millionaires in Connecticut. One reporter, reading the union letter, wrote in his story, “Without using the phrase ‘millionaire’s tax,’ the unions endorsed the concept that the state’s richest residents need to pay more into state coffers.”

Big surprise there!

This is more of the same old, same old. “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me,” Russell Long used to say, “tax the fellow behind the tree.”

This time, Rell bit back in a major way. On the public television show “On the Record,” Rell said, “If unions are saying we are not going to talk unless you raise taxes, let me state unequivocally, and I mean this: I do not negotiate tax policy for the state of Connecticut with labor unions. That is not their role to tell us how many taxes to raise, what kind of taxes to raise and how much money to raise.” The governor wants concessions amounting to about $295 million over the next two years, a piddling amount considering the size of the deficit, now cresting at about $8 billion, according to Democrats.

The struggle, however, will be carried forward by union proxies, congressmen in the legislature whose responsibility it is to say yes or no to measures in the governor’s budget.

So the struggle in coming months will be between the governor, allied with a weak and sometimes disorganized Republican Party, and unions allied with legislators who for years, even in times of plenty, have been calling for a steeply progressive tax on millionaires. The unions, not without reason, believe their hour has come. Republicans – and more importantly, the Republican message – has been repudiated in the recently concluded national elections. President Obama has called for a massive spending program to lift the nation out of what he supposes will be a depression rivaling the Great Depression unless his FDR-like program is not immediately passed. The Big Mo appears to be on the side of precisely those people who want to extract more money from millionaires to support life styles – consistently rising wages and benefits – that other people might consider extravagant in the present circumstances.

From remarks made by Don Williams, President Pro-Tem of the Senate, and Chris Donovan, once a union chief and now Speaker of the state House of Representatives, it does not seem likely that Democrats in the legislature, elected in part through the tireless efforts of unions, would be likely to support the governor in her struggle to discharge the deficit without issuing massive public work’s programs and plundering the millionaires.

The leadership of the Democrat Party having been captured by unions, there is only one course open to Rell -- fight. She must get out of the gubernatorial bubble and make a public fight for her proposals. If they manage to keep her behind closed doors, they win.


Anonymous said...

It's a very discouraging situation. I agree that the Democrats are pretty much owned by unions, so the likelihood of any serious concessions by State workers is pretty small.

The situation is even worse than you might think. Even if the governor is able to reduce the State's workforce, thanks to civil service 'bumping' rules, the wrong people will likely be let go. With 'bumping', the most senior chair-warmers are able to 'bump' junior employees out of a job. It doesn't matter who has been doing a better job, or whether the skillset of the senior union member is what's needed - the job goes to the person who's been there the longest.

I think it's odd that, on the one hand, CT residents seem to hold the fiscally responsible Governor in high regard, but at the same time can't seem to elect any Republican legislators.

Don Pesci said...

Yes, I agree. Early retirement presents a similar situation. All things else being equal, early retirement simply lengthens the period in which people who do not work get paid for the work they do not do. Presumably they will be replaced by workers hired at a lower pay scale, and this should realize some savings. But that savings is off-set by lengthening the retirement period for workers who choose to retire early. So the saving, in the long run, is probably minimal. The key to savings lies in changing bargaining agreements between the state and its workers. My guess is that Rell would be far less popular had she made a serious attempt in this direction.

We have not seen Rell, a popular fiscal conservative, campaigning against the profligate spenders in the legislature. Had she done so, I would have heard about it. No campaign, no change. In this Republicans could take a lesson from President Barack Obama.

Anonymous said...

Why is always Union employees that must giveback. We work just like all the residents of Ct. Some of you want to just layoff workers, what will that accomplish. First people to get laid off are the newest hires that means you are laying off the lowest paying state employees. Taking jobs away no matter if it is at Home Depot or the State just means that less consumer spending for the state. Plus the state will have to pay unemployment to the state workers laid off. I will not get into the reduction of services because that has already been vocalized. And do not beleive that state workers are paid like auto workers we barely make enought to make ends meet just like all the People of Ct. I have been working for the state for a two years and have not received any raise since completeing by probationary period. Union members of the state employees are working people too and do not deserve to be the state's causlites in the bad economic times all the people of ct are suffering through.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous2, nobody is asking the unions to carry all the freight. There are plenty of private sector employees who have lost their jobs. People are looking for a shared sacrifice. What if GM took a page from the union playbook and required everyone to buy a new Monte Carlo whether they need one or not, and have to pay $60,000, whether or not they can afford it. Their balance sheets would improve, no employees would lose their jobs, and they wouldn't need government money.

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