Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Real Budget Deal

Governor Dannel Malloy’s strong suit in budget negotiations with unions is that his proposed budget limits the pain for unionized workers in Connecticut only to state employees. In a hitch, he might easily choose to broaden the shared sacrifice to cover municipal union workers as well. Under a contingency plan prepared by the governor’s office, municipalities would lose one-third of their state aid should the legislature unwisely resist Mr. Malloy’s proposed budget.

Having already socked taxpayers for $1.5 billion, the governor is asking $2 billion in spending cuts only from state union workers. Given the economic condition of the Connecticut – ambulatory, according to The Connecticut Society of Certified Public Accountants -- the state’s long term debt can only grow larger over the years. Very little in Mr. Malloy’s plan patches the hole in the boat caused by excessive spending, which can be ameliorated only by permanent long term cuts. The governor has to wring $2 billion or more from the budget – permanently.

Following the presentation to the legislature of Mr. Malloy’s budget outline, the word on the political street and in union halls was that the savings Mr. Malloy had demanded in very stern tones from state union workers could not be realized, largely because the pool from which he hopes to recover $2 billion in savings has been restricted only to state workers. Unionized Municipal workers are not touched by Mr. Malloy’s withering hand. The “shared sacrifice” Mr. Malloy has asked of taxpayers has not been expanded to include unionized municipal workers, a group that would include teachers, the largest tax drain on state resources.

Delighted with this arrangement were: municipal politicians – especially town administrators who are members in good standing of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, sometime derisively titled the Connecticut Conference of Crying Mayors -- legislators elected in districts composed of town voters, and all municipal workers, including teachers, a voting bloc partial to Democrats.

The state-wide tax increases Mr. Malloy had proposed were trumpeted as a highly principled effort to share the pain of sacrifice. Because the sacrifices were so widely shared, they would be more tollerable for everyone. All were to shoulder an equitable burden. Had Mr. Malloy disappointed the above named interests by requiring a similar “shared sacrifice” of all union workers in the state, including teachers and other municipal employees, none of the state workers now protesting the enormity of their sacrifice, said to be an unrealizable $20,000 per year per worker, would have had much reason to complain – because, in that case, the “shared sacrifice” would have been distributed more equitably among all unionized workers throughout the state.

Mr. Malloy could only have distributed the pain of “shared sacrifice” more equitably throughout the state’s larger union pool by passing along the burden of “shared sacrifice” to municipalities in the form of – listen for the GASP! – state cuts to municipalities. It was argued at the time that this would inevitably raise the dreaded property tax, a prospect that always had drawn crocodile tears from the Connecticut Conference of Crying Mayors, unionized municipal workers, town property taxpayers and state legislators.

There was but one political commentator in the state who suggested this line of reasoning was hokum; the governor all along should have been proposing cuts in state aid to towns said Chris Powell of the Journal Inquirer. In yet another column, Mr. Powell exposes the political pretensions behind the Malloy gambit.

Under threat of increased property taxes, municipalities have often chosen though budget referendums to cut spending; and, in fact, the ever increasing tax buck in Connecticut more often is brought to a stop at the desk of a mayor than that of a state legislator or governor. It is far easier for state legislators to raise taxes -- because Connecticut has no state budget referendum, whereas many towns do. It is at the municipal level, in other words, that cost cutting is most effective, because through referendums town voters directly influence budgets, doubtless at the cost of many tears shed by mayors and other administrators who find cost saving measures too painful to execute.

The latest news is that union negotiators are largely satisfied with the outline of Mr. Malloy’s budget proposal. They want to tweak it a “very little” bit, according to Senate President Don Williams. One cannot help but think of Danton itching to tweak the neck of Marie Antoinette, who was said to be imperious.

The Democratic majority in the legislature has been much in the habit of tweaking the budgets of previous Republican governors, and there is little reason to suppose the same extravagant spenders will not similarly tweak the budget of one of their own on behalf of their most clamorous and grateful constituency – union workers. If the Republicans were of a revolutionary frame of mind, they’d propose a constitutional convention to be convened only for the purpose of establishing a state budget referendum and attach the measure to any and all pending bills increasing the cost of state government.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The cuts to munis make the toll on taxpayers $2.5 billion unions and takers zip and the 2011-12 and the 2012-13 budgets go up by 100s of millions over the 2010-12 budget.

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