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Saying "No"

Is there anyone in the state’s Democratic dominated legislature who can say “No?”

Apparently not.

During the next budget cycle, the state will be facing a deficit that is about 20% of receipts. The size of the deficit has alarmed some in the Media and some in the legislature. Governor Jodi Rell may be unsettled, but her alarm has not itself reached alarming proportions. Rell, a lame duck governor, is due to leave behind at the completion of her term her office and its attendant responsibilities. The principal Republicans and Democrats vying for the position of governor are: former ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley, present Lieutenant Governor Mike Fedele and Oz Griebel on the Republican side; and on the Democratic side, Ned Lamont and former Mayor of Stamford Dan Malloy.

Over at the Journal Inquirer, Managing Editor of the paper and its chief political columnist Chris Powell warns darkly that anyone fortunate or unfortunate enough to become governor next November will have to make some “horrifying cuts” to patch the 20% gap. The budget deficit for fiscal year 2012 is expected to be an astronomical $3.4 billion. A debt this massive cannot be reconciled without leaving some blood on the floor. The good news is that many of those vying for governor – generally seen as that person in state government most likely to wield the cost cutting axe – appear to have at least a notional understanding of the horrific responsibilities that soon may fall to them. Democrats, Powell feels, are simply too closely aligned with unions to expect useful yeoman’s service from them, while Republicans seem to be singing the right dirge.

Thanks to the obduracy of the Connecticut State University system (CSU), we now have a canary in the mine shaft that easily could be used to test the resolve of all the gubernatorial aspirants. It should be mentioned in passing that in pre-Weicker days, there was no CSU, and yet graduates of state universities appeared not to have suffered from the absence of this relatively new featherbed, created at the end of Weicker’s administration to absorb the weighty fall of Bill Cibes, Weicker’s OPM manager and the midwife of the state’s income tax.

Salaries, as everyone knows, drive educational spending in Connecticut. And salaries are driven by union contracts. In an attempt to manage spiraling costs, Rell reached an agreement with officials of CSU to freeze the salaries of non-unionized workers. In the past, it has proven nearly impossible to wring from unionized state workers the concessions necessary to bring the state out of the red. Rell’s critic say she hasn’t tried hard enough; the state legislature, dominated by Democrats overly sympathetic to unions – the Speaker of the state House is a former union steward -- have mounted, some critics say, what appears to be a Potemkin Village resistance. That feathery resistance quickly is broken at the first or second loving touch from union leaders.

The CSU’s non-unionized workers are now putting the touch on the governor, the state legislature and, of course, tax payers for anticipated salary increases. According to a report in CTMirror, Rell’s plea to hold the line on Salary increase were somewhat tardy, having reached officials at CSU after increases of 5-10% had already been approved by trustees to satisfy a resumption of raises previously negotiated union contracts.

CSU’s Board of Trustees Chairman Karl J. Krapek and Chancellor David G. Carter point out that non-unionized employees were promised last year that they would received raises at the same time the pay freeze for unionized employees was terminated.

Carter, who stands to realize a salary increase of 10%, acknowledged “this may not have been a politically expedient thing to do, but I believe our managers and . . . support staff are no less important than any other member of our staff and deserve to be treated fairly.”

Co-chairman of the legislature's Appropriations Committee Sen. Toni Harp has said that CSU’s preliminary budget request is in line with union contracts. Her hands are tied: “"Unless the unions agree to another freeze, it's something we're obliged to do, and we're obliged to [meet] the 27th payroll.”

It is not at all surprising that there is no effective resistance among Democratic legislators to improvident contractual demands made by unions. It would be very surprising if there were no such resistance  among Democrats and Republicans gubernatorial aspirants who next November plan to occupy a position in state government that should serve as the last line of resistance to the poor house.

Every person vying for governor this year should be asked at every gubernatorial debate what strategies they can bring to bear as governor to overcome the alarming placidity of Harp and other like her in the legislature who perversely refuse to acknowledge, unless their own pants are singed, that the house is on fire.

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