Friday, August 12, 2011

Malloy’s Way

Democratic governors, Jim O'Sullivan of National Journal writes, “argue that their approach is easier for their constituents, as both taxpayers and consumers of government services, to stomach,” largely because they are simpatico with unions. “In most cases, with cozier relationships with unions, they’ve approached the labor contract legislation as a collective-bargaining exercise, bringing union leaders into the process.”

Governor Malloy figures prominently in the National Journal story. Mr. Malloy, “repulsed” by budget cutting tactics in Wisconsin and New Jersey, has charged other governors with “scorched-earth, unilateral governing,” according to the National Journal. The news story does not mention Democratic Governor Mario Cuomo as one of the scorchers, and one assumes Mr. Malloy has not identified him as such, although the New York governor managed to put his budget to bed without raising taxes, for reasons of Democratic comity.

“Malloy took office,” Mr. O’Sullivan writes, “with a roughly $3.5 billion deficit, the largest per-capita shortfall in the country. ‘We cut, we sought concessions, and we raised taxes. That’s what we did,’ he [Mr. Malloy] said. After his initial benefit-trimming package—including a two-year wage freeze and increased contributions for health care and pension plans—was voted down by unions, labor leaders lowered the threshold for approval. Those deliberations are still pending; Malloy expects to learn the results by August 18. The plan, he said, would save $1.6 billion over two years, and $21.5 billion over 20 years. If labor rejects the deal, additional layoffs and $700 million more in cuts will take effect, he said.

“’When in doubt, collaborate,’ Malloy said. ‘Or always be in doubt and collaborate.’”

One hardly knows where to begin. Mr. Malloy’s collaboration, it should be obvious by now, was not with Republican leaders in Connecticut’s General Assembly. From the very beginning of budget deliberations, Republican legislators were deliberately frozen out, rather as if  Mr. Malloy had been intent on pursuing a scorched earth policy against his political opponents. Mr. Malloy won election over Republican candidate Tom Foley by a narrow margin in cities where unions routinely turned out votes for Democrats, and the governor’s budget collaboration was with the leaders of SEBAC, a union coalition authorized to bargain collectively on health  care and pensions– not Republicans.

It is generally agreed in Connecticut that Mr. Malloy’s first budget, Plan A, was a boon to unions when compared with Mr. Malloy’s alternative budget Plan B. Initially, Mr. Malloy sought to wrest $2 billion from state union workers as a part of his “shared sacrifice" agenda. Even within the union universe, Mr. Malloy’s sacrifice was not shared among union members in the state’s municipalities. Mr. Malloy’s shared sacrifice was limited only to state union workers, and the burdens placed on SEBAC were much lighter than those imposed on a wider swath of unionized workers under Plan B.

Plan A came to grief when rank and file members of SEBAC, pointedly rebuffing union leaders, rejected the package. Upon the rejection of Plan A, SEBAC negotiators began collaborating with the Malloy administration to overturn the disappointing vote. Mr. Malloy had at the ready Plan B, which was to contract negotiations what a howitzer is to diplomacy by other means. While the Malloy administration sent out Plan B layoff notices to union workers, union negotiators – the same crew that failed to sell Plan A to rank and file members of SEBAC – pumped out propaganda sheets warning any members who might consider rejecting a slightly altered Plan A2 of the perils that would most certainly would befall them should they not relent and vote in favor of the more mild plan. So, far Mr. Malloy has sent out 3,000 pink slips, almost all of which will be withdrawn after Plan A2 is approved. None of the $1.6 billion in tax increases will be rescinded.

After the Democratic dominated General Assembly voted to accept the Plan A budget -- which was approximately $2 billion out of balance and relied on as yet unrealized savings – Mr. Malloy asked the General Assembly to increase his rescission authority from 5 to 10 percent, so that he might unilaterally cut budget expenditures that legislators had supposed were in balance months earlier.

Some legislators in the General Assembly are loathed to share their constitutionally authorized legislative powers with the governor.

"I know it's uncomfortable to deal with the Legislative Branch, that it's inconvenient," said Toni Harp, the Democratic co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee. "But that's our system of government.”

In New York, New Jersey and Wisconsin budget messes such as this already have been settled – to the satisfaction of taxpayers. Budgets there have been put to bed. In Connecticut, the budget yet has miles to go before it sleeps. SEBAC, Connecticut’s fourth branch of government, is due to conclude its vote on the budget on August 18.

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