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Policy Corner: Breaking Taxpayer Serfdom to the Government-Employee Unions

Governor Lamont’s expensive accounting gimmick to buy a little more breathing room in the upcoming biennial budget reveals more than just bad fiscal instincts. It demonstrates once again and beyond any doubt that this government is in large part an agent of the state’s government-employee unions, with all of us working for them. We pay ever more to satisfy their ever-escalating demands, with little effective governmental concern for our financial well-being or for the state’s future viability.  Breaking taxpayers’ bonds of serfdom to the government-employee unions is the first – and vital – step toward returning true free and fair government to Connecticut.  

In 1990, in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall and as the countries of the former Warsaw Pact were shrugging off their slavery and rejoining the ranks of free nations, George Will wondered, whimsically, whether it might not be better to require “Albania [to be] compelled to remain communist as a museum” and reminder to the world of the hideousness and horror of communism.1 

In a similar vein, might it not be better just to get out of the way and let the state of Connecticut wander unvexed its last few steps down the road to serfdom, to provide a cozy little reminder to the rest of the states of what not to do, and how not to govern themselves?   

Because while not a totalitarian nightmare on the scale of the old Eastern Bloc, Connecticut is unquestionably a broken polity. Events of last week demonstrated beyond peradventure that this state is governed for – and largely by – the government-employee unions. The rest of us are in many ways just the serfs working to pay the ever-expanding bills that the leaders of those unions present to us. Like serfs the world over, we’re told that any demands made on us for the benefit of our privileged betters must be met – that they are our “fair share” – and that we’re malicious and ungrateful peasants to put up any resistance. 

Last Thursday, Governor Lamont revealed that a huge portion of the “employment-cost savings” included in the budget passed the legislature will really come as the result of yet another lengthening of the period over which the state will pay its total pension debts. This time the payment period will be extended until 2047, at a total overall cost to the state of more than a billion extra dollars. 

Of course, this is no kind of real savings. You don’t save money by refinancing your house unless you get a significantly lower interest rate. No one is talking about that here. Instead, we’re just paying much more down the road to avoid cutting our annual costs and spending now. Even if that’s inevitable, it’s hardly responsible. 

But events last week revealed much more about how Connecticut has found itself in its current plight. Connecticut is one of only four states that sets its employee retirement benefits through collective bargaining rather than in statute. This means that in order for the governor to get this change in the payment schedule through, he will have to get the approval of the state employees’ unions, or at least of their leaders. 

This is not the way that representative government works. The financial decisions of the state are supposed to lie with its elected officials – the governor and the legislature. Ultimately, equal negotiating authority is not supposed to lie with one unique special interest, here the government-employee unions.  

You would expect that if such a strange and untenable arrangement were to arise, the result would be government of the state – and taxation of its residents – that is in very large part of, by, and for the members, and particularly the leaders, of those unions.  And that, without any question, is what you find in Connecticut. 

Consider merely the response of chief SEBAC negotiator to concerns expressed by Senate Majority Leader Fasano that the currently drafted budget – which assumes the short-term benefits to be realized from the long-term increase in the state’s debt – is out of balance and unconstitutional until the changes to the pension debt structure are ratified (and, in Fasano’s reading of state law, until they have been confirmed by legislative vote). 

“We take issue with Senator Fasano’s claim that it is imprudent or improper for the budget to assume pension funding savings,” Daniel Livingston, chief negotiator for SEBAC, said in a written statement. “While we have made clear that we are not open to a penny of further concessions beyond the $24 billion in savings we are already providing through the SEBAC 2017 agreement, we have indicated our willingness to consider ‘win-win’ changes, including the pension funding proposal included in the budget.” 

We have developed a structure of governance wherein the Governor of Connecticut must go hat in hand to the leaders of the government-employee unions to “ask” them even to “consider” changes that would be made entirely for the unions’ benefit, at the significant expense of taxpayers.

This is absurd. We have developed a structure of governance wherein the Governor of Connecticut must go hat in hand to the leaders of the government-employee unions to “ask” them even to “consider” changes that would be made entirely for the unions’ benefit, at the significant expense of taxpayers.   

This sets the unions up to make additional demands in exchange for the state ramping up its debt to ensure that state workers are afforded benefits of a quality largely unavailable in similar jobs elsewhere in the state.  

Note that the taxpayers this year weren’t “asked to consider” making additional concessions so that state spending could remain unchanged. Our taxes were just yanked up. Again. 

All while the Minority Leader of the Senate is required to scratch at the door to assert legislators’ rights to be included in the major financial decisions of the state. 

Comparisons of Connecticut to the countries trapped behind the iron curtain are certainly overblown, except as a rhetorical device. But another detail from the budget is worth considering in that vein.   

In the closing days of the session, a “mansion tax” was added to the budget, one that will charge what is in effect a huge exit fee to our highest tax-paying citizens who have the temerity to leave Connecticut for places where taxpayers aren’t ground so thoroughly underfoot for the benefit of a specially favored overclass.  

Having to pay to live freer somewhere else because a noble class from the place you’re leaving wants even more of your wealth before you go? 

Maybe that serfdom comparison isn’t quite so far-fetched after all. 

End Notes

George F. Will, Suddenly : the American Idea Abroad and at Home 51, 1986-1990 (1990). 

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  1. sam chester

    June 21, 2019 4:35 pm

    I have been maintaining for years that SEIU and AFSCME are public enemies #1 to all CT taxpayers. They dominate and 100% own the Democrat politicians. Until this corrupt relationship is finally broken, nothing will ever improve in this state. I really though that this article was well-written and timely.

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