Friday, May 13, 2011

The Trouble With Plan A

There were several things wrong with Plan B, the most important of which was that it was not proposed by the Malloy administration as a serious effort to control spending, the pink elephant in budget room. But Plan A as currently constructed does not control spending either, because spending in Connecticut is driven by entitlements, long term union contracts and binding arbitration, cost escalators left untouched by Plan A.

Plan B was never more than a pistol held to the temples of union negotiators who had resisted the gubernatorial dictates of Plan A.

Conceived as a threat, Plan B was presented to the general public as a threat, and its conception and presentation were received by the general public in the same spirit. Indeed, Governor Dannel Malloy and both leaders of the Democratic dominated General Assembly, President of the Senate Don Williams and Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, repeatedly and roundly condemned Plan B even as it was presented, as a cruel default budget plan. Plan B was not Mr. Malloy’s preferred option, the governor said repeatedly.

State Senator Edith Prague, during her 28 years in the General Assembly a devoted union supporter, fairly fainted when she got a gander at Plan B, every Democrat’s mock-up of what they think a Republican budget might have looked like if union operatives had failed to turn out a sufficient number of votes in two of Connecticut’s principal cities during the gubernatorial election, which votes drove the election in Mr. Malloy’s favor by the slimmest of margins and prevented a Republican victory.

"This Plan B takes my breath away,'' said the vice chairwoman of the budget-writing appropriations committee.”It's so unbelievable what it would do to the state of Connecticut. I can't believe these cuts. This is the worst I have seen.''

Plan B passed along Mr. Malloy’s “shared sacrifice” to municipalities by threatening to cut state grants to towns. Among Democrats, it has been supposed that such cuts would result in higher property taxes. But, in fact, such cuts, accompanied by reductions in state mandates, easily could have resulted in cost saving measures within municipalities that might have rolled back than Plan A the tsunami of spending that threatens to beggar the state. Towns, through budget referendums, have been much more successful in reducing costs than have legislators in the Democratic dominated General Assembly.

When Republican leader John McKinney rose in the state senate to protest the Democratic hegemon that had produced a budget without a single Republican fingerprint on it, he touched very lightly on the recent strange doings within the Massachusetts legislature, dominated even more heavily by Democrats, “if one could believe such a thing,” than the General Assembly in Connecticut.

Perhaps to spare the fidgeting Mr. Williams seated beside him, Mr. McKinney did not let the words “repeal binding arbitration” fall from his lips. He spoke in general terms of the Massachusetts legislature having done things that would astonish and appall Democrats in Connecticut. In fact, the Massachusetts legislature, fitfully attempting to regain control of spending, had produced bill abolishing binding arbitration.

Binding arbitration, entitlements and long term union contracts have this in common: They all bind future governors and legislators and are, for that reason, profoundly anti-republican. At the center of republican government lies the notion that a legislature should not be able to bind its successor. The republican ideal is that the people, through their elected representatives, should be able to shape the future. Costly entitlements frustrate republican government. By way of example, the entitlement liabilities of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security amount to $75 trillion, five times the Gross Domestic Product. The national debt is pegged upwards of $14 trillion; but toss in state and municipal debt and the figure balloons to $140 trillion. These are chains that bind. In attempting to repeal binding arbitration, the Democratic dominated Massachusetts legislature is seeking to throw off a few links of the chain to clear the future of roadblocks that prevent a profitable forward movement.

Managing Editor of the Journal Inquirer Chris Powell, who also writes a column in the paper, is one of the best budget commentators in the state. Mr. Powell has been calling upon the Democratic dominated General Assembly to abolish binding arbitration for years, to no avail. Recently his admonitions have had some success – in Wisconsin. And now in Massachussetts. The whirlpool of common sense is edging closer.

In a recent column the very title of which may cause Mrs. Prague to swoon -- “On to Plan B where we should have started” -- Mr. Powell greeted Plan B as a feint in the right direction. With some modifications favorable to unions – the Democratic legislature shaved nearly half a billion off state worker’s “shared sacrifice,” saved municipalities the trouble of pairing down union contracts and pushed effective reform beyond the governors first term -- the General Assembly has now installed Plan A, a much less serious reform package than Plan B. Because tax payers in Connecticut have no union, there were no negotiations that might have affected the tax increases – which includes a budget surplus -- Democrats have thrown like a yoke over the citizens of the state.


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