While his campaign commercials last year declared â€śChange starts now,â€ť Governor Lamont seems as indifferent to the plunder all around him in state government as was his predecessor, Dannel P. Malloy. Among the excesses of the past few days:
nâ€ŠThe General Assembly approved a contract with the two new unions of assistant attorneys general that will give them raises of between 11 and 20 percent over two years, though on average they already earn well more than $100,000 annually and receive excellent benefits. Unions for government employees who are compensated that well are absurd, doubly so when they include supervisors, who are nominally management.
But here as nearly everywhere in state and municipal government in Connecticut, even managers are unionized, canceling their loyalty to management. Meanwhile state government is facing a projected budget deficit of about $2 billion, almost 10 percent of the budget.
nThe Board of Regents for Higher Education voted to increase tuition by 5 percent at the four state universities - Eastern, Western, Central, and Southern - in large part to cover increases in compensation for teaching staff. While most students attend the universities essentially for free, the tuition increase is another sign of state governmentâ€™s inability to control its labor costs despite its practical insolvency.
nThe Connecticut Mirror reported that six administrators at the University of Connecticut, including the departing president, Susan Herbst, have accumulated about 150 vacation days beyond what is generally allowed, equivalent to about $214,000 in extra income. Questioned by the Mirror, Herbst said she would not claim her days accrued beyond the limit, but will still be eligible to be paid $156,000 for other vacation time she did not take during her eight years as president.
That untaken vacation time can be accrued and paid to such a degree by a state employee who earns more than $800,000 per year and has free housing at two university mansions is beyond absurd, not funny at all amid state governmentâ€™s and UConnâ€™s own financial difficulties. But here too Governor Lamont seems to be continuing his predecessorâ€™s practice of letting UConn get away with whatever it wants. Worse, the new governor has offered no ideas for economizing substantially anywhere in state government.
nA legislative committee endorsed a bill to provide state Medicaid insurance for illegal immigrant children. This is a more difficult issue, since, unlike assistant attorneys general and government academics, the kids are innocent and some have serious medical problems. But the legislation will worsen Connecticutâ€™s status as a â€śsanctuary state,â€ť proclaiming to the world, as the stateâ€™s driverâ€™s licenses, in-state tuition rates, and residential identification cards already do, that anyone who enters or stays in the United States illegally and makes his way to Connecticut will be entitled to government benefits far exceeding what is available in much of the rest of the world. All these nominally compassionate policies legitimize and encourage illegal immigration and nullify federal law. Legislative prospects are less bright for a proposal to stop making the families of prisoners pay for telephone calls from their incarcerated loved ones.
State government has long contracted out the system for phone calls from prisoners, extracting almost $8 million a year from this misery. But state employees have to eat, even when theyâ€™re eating everybody else.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.