Missing: Voter confidence, about 2 million strong. Last seen sometime in January.
While faith in Hartford normally waxes and wanes, it’s dropped tremendously in recent months, said many legislators. They point to the unions’ failure to ratify a concession deal and higher taxes across the board as two main reasons for the dip.
“The whole thing has undermined confidence in government fantastically,” state Sen. Joe Markley, a Republican representing Cheshire, Southington, Wolcott and Waterbury in the 16th Senate District, said. “Deals were made in secret, and that the GOP was shut out is in my mind is like a banana republic. The legislator giving authority to government was a dereliction of their sworn duty. No good can come of that.’
From the start Gov. Dannel P. Malloy talked about shared sacrifice in order to balance the budget. One great piece of that was getting at least $1.6 billion in union concessions. The unions rejected the deal late spring. In turn Malloy said about 6,500 layoffs might be required to balance the budget. Many of those layoffs have started.
Then the and the governor announced a deal for another vote. Much of the original $1.6 billion concessions deal stays. Among other things, that deal included no longevity payments, hiring and firing freeze. But language about health care changes tweaked. That’s because when SEBAC rejected what many legislators from both parties and most of the public called a sweetheart deal they did so because of state concerns about health care.
That led to a crisis of confidence, said several lawmakers from both parties
State Rep. Brenda Kupchick, a Republican representing Fairfield in the 132nd House District, knows where voter confidence is these days.
“It’s in the toilet,” Kupchick said. “I have constituents, small business owners, calling me because they don’t want to pay taxes.”
The union leaders recently revised their bylaws. Now ratification of a deal won’t need a super majority, a simple majority will work. The change came in part because under the old rules, although 57 percent of the unions had voted for the concession deal it wasn’t enough for ratification.
It’s not change one state senator can believe in.
“Voter confidence on all levels of government is low and it’s justified,” said senate Minority Leader John McKinney, a Republican representing Easton Fairfield, Newtown and Weston in the 28th Senate District.
McKinney said government’s behavior on both the federal and state level has unraveled confidence. It’s not enough that Congress reached a debt ceiling deal, and Harford voted on the budget, he said.
“The problem is that neither fully addresses the long-term problems. In Connecticut union leadership has not performed well. The leaders proved they can’t at all,” McKinney said.
State Sen. Gayle Slossberg a Democrat representing Milford, Orange and West Haven in the 14th Senate District voted with the GOP against the governor’s budget, in part because she has said the unions need to ratify the concession deal.
Connecticut isn’t alone in the union fight. Over in the Empire State, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo counted on $450 million in savings from reduced labor costs and warned there would be as many as 9,8000 layoffs if state employees didn’t accept wage freezes. To the north, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick wants to curb municipal employee bargaining.
Changes in union rules are desperately needed if the public is to regain trust, McKinney said.
“Union collective bargaining needs to be overhauled – but as long as Chris Donovan is speaker we’re not going to see change.”
State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, a Democrat representing Westport in the 136th House District, agrees there’s a problem.
“In anecdotal encounters around Westport people are dismissive, if not derisive, of union leadership,” Steinberg said. “They respect his [Malloy’s] determination to see this through. Their focus is that the unions need to get real and ratify this.”
Ratification of the agreement could go a long way to restore confidence, said state Sen. Bob Duff a Democrat representing Norwalk and Darien in the 25th Senate District.
“Without that I believe confidence in the role of government will be lost,” Duff said. “The best solution would be not to have the layoffs. We can only hope for the best. It’s not pro- or anti- anything. It has to do with sustainability.”
Union concessions are part of what some call the three-legged stool needed to get Connecticut into shape: higher taxes, more spending cuts, and union givebacks.
Markley said he constantly hears voters tell him they can’t believe what the government is doing.
“My general sense is that there needs to be change - a change in government,” Markley said. “And I will actively work to elect a Republican majority in the senate next year.”