Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy says negotiations over the state budget, which began last week, have a long way to go, but after wobbling on taxes he has accomplished something remarkable. He has pushed his party's majority in the General Assembly, the Democrats, to agree that state government's financial collapse must be fixed mainly by cutting spending, and has induced the Republican minority, which is just a few votes short of displacing the Democrats, to propose cutting spending even more and to get specific about some spending cuts.
It's amazing what a Democratic governor can accomplish when, forswearing re-election, he no longer must play the tool of the special interests that run the party, the state employee and teacher unions, and can pursue the public interest instead. Of course the unions, working through Democratic legislators, will try to induce the governor to go wobbly on taxes again.
After all, government in Connecticut long has been less a mechanism of public service than of financing the Democratic Party, keeping the party's most active members on the government payroll. This makes ironic the Republican opposition to the Citizens' Election Program, which makes all election campaigns, not just campaigns supported by government employee unions, eligible for government funding. Now that Connecticut's financial collapse has become shocking -- the budget deficit exploding, businesses and residents leaving for lower-taxed states, bond ratings being downgraded -- even the public is awakening to the danger.
As the Russian revolutionaries used to say, "The worse, the better." That's because so much is wrong about the premises of public policy in Connecticut that only collapse can force elected officials to make the necessary changes, which are far more profound than transitory spending reductions. The big money is in getting rid of those mistaken policies themselves.
Cutting spending while leaving those policies in place only guarantees that the money will be spent mistakenly again someday. In their negotiations the governor and legislative leaders are looking at the budget largely as a matter of line items. More importantly they should be asking: What is the cost of forfeiting the public's authority over government employment through collective bargaining and binding arbitration of contracts? What is the cost of social promotion in public schools and colleges? What is the cost of welfare subsidies for childbearing outside marriage and the cycle of poverty they cause?
Those costs are surely in the billions every year. As negligent as state government's labor management is, with discipline and dismissal of state employees being nearly impossible and the gold-plating of their fringe benefits, the danger here is that state employees will be scapegoated when so much else in government is wrong. The Hartford Courant's Dan Haar notes that the governor's objective of $700 million per year in union concessions amounts to $30,000 per employee. The Republican budget seeks far more in concessions.
That just evades other needed changes. While there is a lot of room to cut with state employees -- just canceling their six gratuitous paid holidays, like Columbus Day,, would save about $40 million a year -- for the average state employee $30,000 in savings would be impractical and unfair. So why is no one talking about University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst's $900,000 in annual salary and benefits, which doesn't count her two university mansions? Especially in higher education, state government is full of similarly overpaid executives.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.