Revolutionary With Connecticut’s tax revenue continuing to collapse, many elected state officials, starting with Governor Malloy and Republican legislators and now even many Democratic legislators, members of the governor’s own party, are starting to explain: “You can’t spend what you don’t have.”
Since that supposed principle hasn’t stopped the governor and many legislators before, causing them instead to raise taxes, what they really mean is: “We’ve raised taxes by huge amounts twice in the last six years and economic conditions in the state are only worsening, so we shouldn’t do it again — at least not until we’re past the next legislative election, which is only six months away.”
What they shoud be saying is: “The collapse of tax revenue suggests that our major policy premises are wrong — that these premises are not making Connecticut prosperous but impoverishing it. We should reconsider them — fast.”
That explanation has not been given about the state budget just acrimoniously negotiated by the governor and the leaders of his own party in the General Assembly. That budget is more across-the-board slashing than policy changes. But since, for a change, the budget doesn’t raise taxes and instead cuts spending, it represents a policy change in the broadest sense, and thus it may prompt policy changes in future budgets. Since at the governor’s insistence the budget freezes taxes, it is a great political victory for him even if it will cost him among his party’s many dependents who get appropriations.
After its cuts and freezing of taxes, what may be most remarkable about the new budget is that none of the constituencies who are losing money could be induced to participate in the process of economizing.
A union that often poses as the vanguard of the working class, District 1199 of the Service Employees International Union, whose members include state employees and employees of state-subsidized nursing homes, said nothing about the $750,000 salary of University of Connecticut’s president, Susan Herbst, and the $335,000 salary of Mark Ojakian, president of the state Colleges and Universities System.
Parents of mentally impaired adults who have been waiting for many years for placement in state-funded group homes settled for legislation requiring merely that the state Department of Developmental Services give them better estimates of their interminable wait. They did not complain about the many gratuitous paid holidays, like Columbus Day, enjoyed by state and municipal employees.
“Undocumented” students seeking to qualify for discounts in attending public colleges declined to point out the huge expense borne by those colleges because the state’s lower-education system is based on social promotion and fills those colleges with unqualified students.
And the state employee unions may accept thousands of layoffs rather than renegotiate their salary and benefits package or complain about the financial grants being given by state government to big corporations, “corporate welfare.”
The state employee unions are a special case, since, unlike the other budget constituencies, they are contending less for money than for power, their privileged position in state government as “fixed costs,” costs that, because of state law establishing collective bargaining for them and binding arbitration of their contracts, take priority over all other appropriations in government.
While the governor seems to be staggering the layoffs, causing fear among state employees about who will be next and building pressure on the unions to negotiate concessions, if the unions sacrifice now along with so many other constituencies, they will look just like everybody else and thus not so much to be feared. That might be revolutionary.
Mr. Powell is managing editor of the Manchester, Connecticut, Journal Inquirer.