Governor Ned Lamont, we are told by Christine Stewart of CTNewsJunkie, is about to bump heads with SEBAC union heads authorized to form contracts with Connecticut’s executive department. No need to wonder whose head will break first.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt solved the problem of the union organization of federal workers in 1937 when, approached by Luther Stewart, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, to allow collective bargaining, Roosevelt nixed the idea for the best of reasons.
Roosevelt wrote to Stewart, “… the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.”
Here in Connecticut, the General Assembly has been for decades renting out its solemn constitutional obligation to exert unilateral control over budgetary getting and spending on behalf of “the whole people.” The contracts drawn up between unionized state workers and the governor of Connecticut in backrooms closed to the public are legally binding and enforceable by the courts. Such contracts make the judiciary, not the legislature, the final arbiters of any disputes between union heads, the governor and legislators.
We all know that courts and arbiters are legally obliged to enforce SEBAC contracts. State worker unions have effectively become Connecticut’s fourth branch of government. But the Roosevelt solution is yet available to the General Assembly, which should recover its constitutional usufruct by unilaterally deciding matters involving unionized state employee salaries and pensions -- for the best of reasons.
State government is constitutionally bound to represent the general interests of “the whole people,” not special interests such as unions or business lobbies. And the legislature, not the courts, should decide all matters relating to getting and spending. Connecticut’s highest in the nation unmanageable pension liability – cresting at $127.7 billion in 2017 -- has been caused by legislative cowardice and a rank abdication of constitutional obligations. Connecticut’s employee debt, according to a 2016 American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) study, amounts to $35,721 per person, the second highest per capita debt in the nation behind Alaska.
“Connecticut,” the study notes “ranks last with a dismal 19.7 percent funding ratio, down 3.1 percentage points from last year. Connecticut is one of four states to set retiree benefits through collective bargaining and is unique in that the legislature does not have to consent to contracts for them to go into effect.”
It is a counsel of despair to suppose that state debt can only be reduced by pushing payments out to the future, the solution presented by the Lamont administration. Re-amortization does not REDUCE debt – at all; it simply distributes the debt to future taxpayers.
Virtually all Connecticut’s problems are political in nature. Real reform in the state would involve changing state worker pensions to defined contribution plans and abolishing in the future all contractual arrangements with unions. The state should drop its pension plan for teachers and allow educators to pay into social security and collect benefits. It is absolutely immoral to permit teacher’s bleak futures to depend upon a bankrupt pension system. The legislature, acting on behalf of “the whole people,” should set salaries and pensions unilaterally. The state should further reduce debt for children yet unborn, upon whose shoulders OUR debt will be placed through re-amortization, by selling off its assets whenever possible. The state should improve education, especially in cities, by financing successful educational ventures and de-financing unsuccessful ones, providing vouchers to students whose schools the state has mercifully closed, so they may attend any successful school of their choice.
Is there anyone in this broken and foundering state – anyone at all – who believes that Lamont would, in his carefully choreographed tête-à-têtes with greedy and obdurate union leaders, force state unions to adopt any of the sensible and restorative measures cited above? Is there any reporter, columnist or editorial writer in the state – any at all -- who believes ameliorative measures such as those cited above will be adopted in any meeting between Lamont and union leaders whose court enforceable contracts had been pushed out by the Malloy admiration well beyond his first term in office?
Rex Harrison once was asked by a reporter why he was leaving costly London for less costly Brussels after having made his fortune and reputation in Britain. Was it taxes? No, he answered; it was the chocolates. When the CEO of UTC is next asked whether he and his band of brothers decision makers have left Connecticut for Boston because of high taxes, burdensome regulation and a moronic state government, reporters and commentators in Connecticut should not be surprised when he replies: Nope; it’s the baked beans.