Announcing goodies for various municipalities and organizations lately, Governor Lamont has been using government money to win support for his re-election campaign, as any incumbent would. But all the goodies awarded so far don't come close to the expense the governor would incur in favor of the state employee unions, the main engine of his party, the Democrats.
The master contract of the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition is expiring and this week the Connecticut Mirror reported some basic terms of the new contract proposal on which the governor and the unions are agreed. Those terms are extremely generous.
Unionized employees would get signing bonuses of $3,500 by July and 2.5% raises in each of the next three fiscal years, as well as annual "step" raises for gaining seniority. While the seniority raises are not yet known, they easily might bring the total annual raises to 5%, or 15% over three years.
Since the country's real inflation rate is about 15%, the signing bonuses and the raises in the proposed contract won't fully protect state employees against erosion of their living standards. Even so, the gains from the contract seem likely to exceed any wage gains private-sector workers and taxpayers will be receiving.
In any case, everyone in Connecticut who is not employed by state government should have the chance to review the contract long before it goes to the General Assembly for ratification.
The governor and the unions don't want that to happen. Their plan is to withhold the details until the unions ratify the contract and it is presented to the General Assembly, whereupon public examination and participation in the issue will have been greatly curtailed even as the unions already will have long been pressuring legislators.
Yankee Institute President Carol Platt Liebau notes: "Connecticut state government has an unfortunate history of governors negotiating bad labor deals that deliver higher taxes and lower-quality services. In an election year where state officials will be seeking endorsements from many of the powerful unions with which they're ‘negotiating' now, it's important that taxpayers see exactly what's on the table and have a chance to weigh in on the promises being made in their name."
The leader of the Republican minority in the state House of Representatives, Vincent J. Candelora of North Branford, smells corruption. "That the governor is giving out bonuses right before an election reeks of political payoff," Candelora says.
Of course in an election year nearly everything state government does is likely to involve political motivation if not quite a payoff. Payoff or not, the purpose of the state employee unions is not to advance the public interest but to crush it, and if the unions are happy with their new contract, the public will be getting less value from government, not more.
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The General Assembly should enact legislation requiring the state housing commissioner to study the effects of the law enabling housing developers to override zoning in exclusive towns, though not for the reasons offered by the bill's sponsor.
The bill has been introduced by state Rep. Jennifer Leeper, D-Fairfield, who complains that the zoning override law is increasing population density too much in her town and other suburbs and is causing much political division.
But then the exclusive zoning of many suburbs and rural towns long has caused too much division as well -- economic class and racial segregation.
Yes, as the zoning override law's opponents note, more housing may require some towns to increase their infrastructure. But that's progress. If the Indians had thought of zoning, Connecticut wouldn't be here.
There are two good things about Leeper's bill. First, it shows that support for exclusionary zoning comes not just from Republicans but also from suburban Democrats like Leeper.
The other good thing about the bill is that the study might conclude that the zoning override law is not really having much effect at all. For housing prices have exploded in Connecticut, demonstrating a desperate shortage of housing not just for the burdensome and much-feared poor but also for young people starting out on their own and the middle class.
Since housing is a necessity, rising prices for housing are as hurtful as rising prices for food and gasoline.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.