As they say, “Everything’s been said and everyone’s said it”: Connecticut’s state workers were nuts to reject the deal offered by Governor Dan Malloy.
Indeed, anyone who looked closely at the deal is doubly amazed, because it involved no genuine sacrifice: a two-year wage freeze (no pay cuts or unpaid furlough days) followed by three consecutive annual raises of 3 percent plus; a four-year no-lay-off guarantee; and only “avoidable” give-ups — penalties only for those workers who refused to follow a new wellness regimen or retired early.
So, why did the unions reject a deal they couldn’t refuse?
It was more than just lunacy. Many naysayers were state police, prison and justice system workers in the most essential function of government – law and order. Apparently, because of the indispensible nature of their jobs, they felt little risk of being laid off. Moreover, with the State’s prison population down-trending and little new prison staff hiring, many guards are close to retirement. No pain in being fired if you are about to retire.
But the fact that the law-and-order workers felt they could reject the deal with impunity, doesn’t explain why they did.
Some may not have wanted to work longer to avoid the “avoidable”: Under the deal, the penalty for early retirement doubled from 3 to 6 percent per year of prematurity. But the early-retirement diehards couldn’t possibly account for anywhere near the total of naysayers. Something else was going on.
Media reports and especially the workers’ own online comments suggest that many perceived major exceptions to the “shared sacrifice” in Malloy’s overall budget. As widely reported, many state workers resent that the rich in Fairfield County faced a top-bracket income tax rate increase of only 0.20% percent.
Online comments revealed resentment also of the beneficiaries of the State’s overgenerous social service and welfare system, recently expanded by Malloy and Democrats in a legislative session which The New York Times labeled “the most liberal and activist in recent memory.”
Not only did social services and welfare payment levels go largely untouched in Malloy’s budget, something he emphasized repeatedly in speeches and interviews, but he and assembly Democrats introduced a “refundable” Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which is really welfare paid via the tax system. By the estimate of Malloy’s budget chief, about 190,000 poor taxpayers with family incomes up to $48,000 will qualify for “refunds” – in reality grants, since they are not a refund of taxes paid – costing the State a total of more than $100 million annually.
Exempting the poor from shared sacrifice, while “politically correct,” may have been a colossal political miscalculation. It appears to have invited workers enjoying impunity to vote their resentments rather than to vote support for their more vulnerable co-workers.
And expanding the social welfare system may have spurred many to vote a real sense of indignity. Reportedly, a primary reason for rejection was change to the workers’ health care plan, primarily the mandate requiring workers to follow wellness regimens or face increased health care premiums – sure sounds like the “individual mandate” to buy health insurance or face fines under the new federal health care law.
Workers referred to the changes and the push toward universal health care under the state’s Sustinet system as “Malloycare.” While some mistakenly thought they were being rolled into Sustinet, this a clear and pejorative reference to Obamacare, which is still opposed by most Americans as a threat to health care quality, an invasion of privacy and an assault on dignity, self-reliance and personal freedom.
If Malloy wants a deal with real sacrifices from state workers, he may have to restrain his expensive and coercive liberalism, jettison the EITC and ditch expansion of Sustinet. That along with a bigger bump in the top income tax rate might appease state workers squeezed between what they see as the under-taxed ultra-rich and the over-coddled poor.
The funds generated by such truly universal and substantial sacrifice might fund reduction of the State’s towering debt and its massive unfunded liabilities, which, in turn, might help to attract businesses bringing the only real solution to the State’s woes – jobs.