Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Connecticut: Democracy or Aristocracy

This week the Connecticut State Senate narrowly approved a package of labor concessions that had been negotiated by Governor Dannell Malloy in a last ditch effort to close the State’s enormous budget deficit. The whole process should be examined as a lesson in how democracy really works in Connecticut, the State that used to brag that it was the first colony to govern under a written constitution.

Connecticut is one of the bluest states in the country and the legislature has been dominated by Democrats for years. This year, however, while the House of Representatives is still largely Democrat, the State Senate is split equally between Democrats and Republicans 19 to 19. For almost a year the Governor and the Legislature have been struggling to close an enormous budget deficit but although the State constitution requires that the budget be balanced, they were not able to come up with a solution. Somehow, it was possible to ignore the State’s constitution and let the Governor govern by executive order.  

As a result, the Governor called the Legislature back into session and presented them with the public service union “concession” package that had been negotiated behind closed doors by his staff. Details of the package were not shared with the people of the state or with their representatives until the various unions involved approved them. In other words, the union members got a chance to review and vote on the package while the people of the state were kept in the dark.

Apparently the various bargaining units approved the “concessions” by a margin of over 80%, a sure sign that their leaders realized that it was a very good deal despite the so-called concessions. Although Governor Malloy is not running for re-election in 2018, he has effectively tied the hands of his successor with a five year, no layoff agreement. Moreover, the deal extends the union contracts for a full ten years. Control of the public service unions has been effectively taken out of the hands of the legislature for the next ten years.

In return, the unions agreed on temporary wage freezes, some furlough or no-pay days, and slightly higher pension contributions. The union members were not required to accept any fundamental changes to their very generous pension plan. They did, however, agree to throw new union members or public service employees under the bus by creating a defined contribution plan for them. After years of railing about the horrors of defined contribution plans, the current union membership overwhelmingly accepted them for new state employees, as long as they could keep their own privileged defined benefit plan.

This defined benefit pension plan is the elephant in the room that no Democrat politician wants to see or touch. The vast majority of Connecticut’s citizens who must pay for the pensions of their so-called public servants do not have retirement benefits even close to those enjoyed by the State’s union employees. The Social Security benefit of ordinary citizens is based on their average pay over 30 years, not on the average of their highest three years pay. Moreover, an ordinary citizen cannot get the full Social Security benefit until age 67. State employees get a fill pension at age 60 or after 35 years of service.

Union leaders often argue that pensions need to be generous since their members do not participate in Social Security. However, the mere mention that they switch from the Connecticut system to Social Security is enough to send them into shock. Does anyone ever realize that ordinary citizens pay for the pensions of State employees but that these same employees do not pay a dime into the Social Security system?

So, if the Governor can negotiate behind closed doors and keep the legislature in the dark, can this really be called a democracy? If the Governor must go hat in hand to the unions and beg for concessions, who is really in charge? Does the Governor ever submit his proposals to the people for their approval? When he threatens to cut services does he seek anyone’s approval? When he threatened to force the towns to pay for State employee pensions, did he ask the towns to approve the plan?

Actually, Connecticut is more an aristocracy than a democracy. The aristocracy are those members of the public service unions who enjoy benefits that are out of reach of most ordinary citizens.  These aristocrats do not have titles of nobility but they have become the ruling class. The newly approved concessions package guarantees that they cannot lose their jobs or their benefits for the foreseeable future. In retirement many of them will even be able to move to Florida to escape paying State income tax on their pensions.

The Social Studies curriculum in Connecticut’s schools should be changed to indicate that the government of Connecticut is an aristocracy; a government by the privileged few and for the privileged few. The unit could include a comparison with France on the eve of its Revolution. Governor Malloy is planning to leave office before the full impact of his concessions will hit his successor. He could easily be likened to the French King who supposedly said, “Apr├Ęs moi, le deluge!”***


***Click on this link for a witty portrayal of pension aristocrats or just view  the video below.

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