After three months of fecklessness, delusion, incompetence, and disorder that embarrassed the state throughout the country, Connecticut may be grateful for any budget at all, even if the compromise budget developed this week by the General Assembly’s Democratic and Republican leaders is found to contain more than the usual hurtful, stupid, and dishonest provisions.
In any case, if the compromise wins Governor Malloy’s signature or is enacted over his veto, it will restore at least the semblance of government and end the governor’s allocation of money on an emergency and arbitrary basis. That will be a great relief to most municipalities, since the governor has been threatening their school money.
But the budget may cause pain, not relief, for many other recipients of state money, whose funding will have been sharply reduced or even eliminated without much, if any, public discussion. That pain will be the other side of the budget compromise’s not raising taxes sharply and its failure to control state employee and municipal teacher pensions and benefits.
Many more years of such pain are probably ahead for government in Connecticut as people increasingly understand that it is failing to achieve its nominal objectives and is alienating and starting to lose Connecticut’s productive, self-sufficient population. A political consensus that state government has to start serving the public more and itself less just may be developing.
If such a consensus is developing, it will have been sparked by the three moderate Democratic senators and five moderate Democratic representatives who undid their party’s narrow majorities in the legislature by voting for a Republican budget, thereby forcing their party to settle for something less than another huge tax increase. Another huge tax increase would have only fed the machine of state government, which isn’t much more than a pension and benefit society.
Indeed, pension and benefit costs for state employees and municipal teachers cannibalized state government more than ever this year. Yes, the pensions long have been underfunded, but most people in state government and the state employee and municipal teacher unions knew this. The unspoken agreement has been that union members would get contracts making them state government’s only secured creditors when the crackup in the state’s finances and demographics began. Public services and government’s other dependents would suffer but not the union members.
The unions have known this better than many of the public’s supposed representatives, so it will be no offense if a new political consensus strives to revise pensions and benefit costs in the public’s favor, as the compromise budget has started to do by requiring teachers to contribute more toward their pensions. This provision is remarkable, since teacher unions are the most feared special interest in the state and surely will retaliate, especially against Democratic legislators they had considered their mute tools.
The governor must be credited for forcing the pension issue this year by insisting on maintaining the proper level of contributions to the pension funds. He would have deserved a lot more credit if he had insisted on serious concessions from the state employee unions instead of giving them another generous contract prior to the budget’s adoption.
The governor also must be credited for prompting the budget compromise by threatening to cut off the school money. Without that threat by the governor, legislators might have dithered a lot longer.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.