As a student of history, Gov. Ned Lamont probably knows that emperors in ancient Rome didn’t have to be very good to stay in power as long as they amply compensated their legions.
That may explain the governor’s pose of helplessness about the $350 million in 5½ percent raises that state government recently began paying to unionized state employees. The raises are powerfully ironic amid Connecticut’s record unemployment and loss of private-sector income resulting from the virus epidemic and suspension of so much commerce. But unionized government employees are the infantry of Democratic campaigns in the state, and in five months there will be elections not only for president and Congress but also for the General Assembly. So the legions must get their reward now.
The governor may figure that while state government’s financial position is catastrophic, necessitating big cuts in government spending or big increases in taxes or both, this will not be widely understood until after the election and that most people who are not employed by state or municipal government will not understand until the legislature’s Democratic majority is safely returned.
The governor is probably right about this. For the raises won’t become a political issue unless somebody makes it one, and while Connecticut’s Republicans, burdened with Trump at the top of their ticket, desperately need something else to campaign on, they are letting the raises go.
The party’s most recent and likely future candidate for governor, Bob Stefanowski, has written and spoken against the raises, as has the Republican leader in the state Senate, Len Fasano. But Stefanowski is not running this year, Fasano is retiring, and, as usual, Republican legislative nominees seem to have little to say about anything.
State government’s lockdown in response to the epidemic has crippled many industries — retail stores, restaurants, bars, entertainment, hospitality, sports, and, because of the collapse of advertising, news organizations. Many components of these industries probably won’t be coming back and their jobs will be lost forever. Meanwhile state government’s social welfare expenses have exploded.
But as Connecticut’s royalty, government employees have gold-plated union contracts and they alone will emerge unharmed. While most schools and many government agencies haven’t been operating much if at all, government employees who have been taking it easy lately haven’t lost a cent, unlike private-sector employees.
So much for the bleating that “we’re all in this together.” For in Connecticut if you don’t have a contract with state government, you’re lower than dirt — and your supposed representatives won’t even speak up for you. But then why should they if they never hear from you even as they hear from the unions nearly every day?
Since the compensation of state and municipal government employees constitutes most government spending in Connecticut, it is easy to make the case that saving the state requires bringing that compensation in line with the compensation of the private sector. But will any candidates for the General Assembly not be too scared of government employees to make that case?
If Connecticut’s Republicans think that with Trump at the top of their ticket they are going to lose anyway, they might as well lose while standing for something important, something that may gain resonance two years hence when Connecticut has an election not so distorted by an unpopular president.