FORMS OF GOVERNMENT
IN CONNECTICUT: HOME RULE BUT WHERE IS HOME? ONE SOLUTION...
- NEWS; Very interesting development (a pun - perhaps development itself was to blame) in Simsbury;
- Watch out municipalities - frontal assault coming in 2015 on property tax;
- And now Greenwich considers long-term financing - OMG!
- Representative Town Meeting "RTM" not recognized
as a form of government by Courant article?
See Greenwich story here.
- More emphasis coming in 2011 on seeing ourselves
as one state in a region (perhaps called New
- About the situation
in other U.S.
- Why F.O.I. and the 4th estate
matter - an example.
WHEN IS A MAJORITY IN A LOSING POSITION? WHEN THEY CARE WHAT PEOPLE THINK.
Second thoughts on getting lots and lots of really bad press...and similar to Weston's Selectmen, some years ago, backing down.
We would bet there were other things -
perhaps seemingly minor - than salary involved in date of change - like
pension, health insurance...
GOP Vote On Glassman's Pay Cut, Resignation Still Reverberating In Simsbury
Dec. 12, 2014
SIMSBURY — The reverberations from the board of selectmen's decision to
cut First Selectman Mary Glassman's pay – and her subsequent resignation
– continue to be felt in town.
Republican Selectman Mike Paine, who owns Paine's Inc., a recycling and
disposal service, said he lost customers as a result of his vote.
"It's a few people," he said. "They have every right to do business with
who they chose to do business with. Is it an appropriate response? The
jury is still out on that."
Paine said those who canceled his service attributed their decision to
his recent vote. He said he talked with a number of people who intended
on canceling their service and managed to get some to stay.
The board on Nov. 24 voted to cut Glassman's salary by 35 percent after a
consultant's report recommended that some of the duties of the first
selectman be spread among other town staff. The report also recommended
that the first selectman's salary be cut accordingly.
But Glassman – who commissioned the consultant's report – said she was
upset that the board voted to cut her salary effective July 2015, rather
than waiting until January 2016, as the consultant recommended. On Dec.
1, she announced her plan to resign in January...story in full: http://www.courant.com/community/simsbury/hc-simsbury-republican-selectmen-backlash-20141212-story.html
Selectmen Reverse Pay Cut, Accept Glassman's Resignation
Dec. 8, 2014
SIMSBURY — Republican selectmen backed away Monday from their
decision to cut the first selectman's salary in July, which had prompted
First Selectman Mary Glassman to resign in protest. But Glassman
offered no indication that she withdraw her resignation, and the
Republicans voted to appoint Democrat Lisa Heavner as first selectman,
effective Jan. 3.
The Republicans' decision to move up the reduction in the first
selectman's salary by six months and Glassman's resignation had been
roundly criticized by many residents. Monday's meeting had already been
moved from town hall to the public library, but even there many
residents were turned away because there was no more room. About 50
people were in attendance, and many were forced to stand.
Glassman, tears forming in her eyes, spoke to the standing-room-only crowd and defended her resignation.
"It was not about the money. It was never, never about the money," she
said, referring to her decision to resign on Jan. 2. "It was always
about the importance of the process that we need to follow when making
important decisions about our town..."
Story in full: http://www.courant.com/community/simsbury/hc-simsbury-board-reconsiders-selectman-salary-20141208-story.html
"OVERTURN THE ACTION OF THE BOARD..." AT A SPECIAL TOWN MEETING?
Sounds like Weston (almost) some years ago!
What was done? Instead of
risking losing its powers to the "mob", the Selectmen withdrew their
motion instead, IIRC.
Hartford Courant editorial on Simsbury here: http://www.courant.com/opinion/editorials/hc-ed-glassman-resigns-20141201-story.html
Of course - as last item on the agenda (1 hour 38 minutes in)...
as noted in link, an attorney, recused herself when the motion was made
and seconded to take action midterm. Prior to that, in discussion
before there was a motion made and seconded, it was noted that the
First Selectman's salary had been $114,000 since 2007 and now was being
dropped to $75k. Why?
The First Selectman noted that when she was elected (the first time, we
assume), in the early 1990's, town staff was herself and a
secretary. No doubt somewhat of an exaggeration, but perhaps not,
because the Capitol District COG, of which Simsbury is a part, has
always had a regional sewer district and other regional entities to
serve its members (i.e. purchasing coop). Hartford has always been
a real central city for the region, its major employer being the
insurance industry until they moved away from the center. As the
seat of State government, Hartford is always due for a rebirth.
HARTFORD COURANT: http://www.courant.com/community/simsbury/hc-simsbury-mary-glassman-20141201-story.html
CTNEWSJUNKIE STORY: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/simsburys_mary_glassman_to_resign_next_month/
FROM THE LWV OF WESTON website, a search:
2010 Primary: Mary Glassman was on the Democrat Primary
ticket again (Lt. Gov), this time losing, with Ned Lamont, running
against the endorsed line candidates Dan Malloy and Nancy Wyman.
2006: Primary results - Weston Democrats choose Lamont, Malloy. Ran for Lt. Gov. with John DeStefano in 2006 after the primary where her
"running mate" had been Dan Malloy. Glassman had defeated her Lt.
Gov opponent, we assume, statewide.
In perhaps the largest voter turnout ever in Weston for a Democratic
primary, voters chose Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont over incumbent
Joe Lieberman for senator. In the gubernatorial race, voters
chose Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy over New Haven Mayor John
DeStefano. Of Weston’s 1,738 Democrats eligible to vote, 983, or
57%, voted in person or by absentee ballot. Of those, 551 (56%) voted
for Mr. Lamont and 432 (44%) voted for Mr. Lieberman, giving Mr. Lamont a
119 vote edge.
Mr. Malloy won big with 571 votes, while Mr. DeStefano received just 314 votes, a 65% to 35% margin.
In the race for Lieutenant Governor, Mr. Malloy’s running mate, Mary
Messina Glassman received 541 votes, while Mr. DeStefano’s running mate,
Scott Slifka received 264 votes.
BET rejects use of longer-term bonds for municipal projects
Robert Marchant, Greenwich TIME
Published 9:37 pm, Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Should the town have
the ability to issue long-term bonds maturing over 20 years that give
budget-makers more flexibility -- or stick with its current policy of
shorter term borrowing that incur less interest costs?
Democrats on the Board of Estimate and Taxation voted yes to the concept
of longer-term debt obligations, while Republicans voted no, so the
measure failed to pass at the BET's Monday night meeting.
The debate revealed a political and philosophical rift between board
members on the merits of loose or tight debt obligations. The town is
currently under a restriction dating from 2008 that bonds have to be
paid back in five to seven years, in effect, a policy called "modified
pay as you go." The issue has a long backstory among town leaders
involving overdue infrastructure repairs and concerns over debt levels...story in full here:
Key Hartford Official Out After Criminal Record Revealed
The Hartford Courant
By JENNA CARLESSO and STEVEN GOODE
6:49 PM EST, November 27, 2013
Less than a day after Mayor Pedro
Segarra named Kennard Ray his new deputy chief of staff, Ray abruptly
withdrew from consideration.
The withdrawal came shortly after
questions were raised about Ray's criminal history, which includes
arrests on weapons and drug charges. Records show that Ray has several
felony convictions, including criminal possession of a gun and
possession and sale of narcotics.
Ray, 32, was scheduled to begin work
with the city on Dec. 2. His role would have been to act as a liaison
to the city council, community organizations and city residents,
according to Segarra.
In a letter to Segarra dated
Tuesday, Ray said that he withdrew his nomination due to "extenuating
circumstances." He did not elaborate.
"It is only with the best intentions
and concern for my city, my mayor and his administration that I have
chosen not to serve," Ray wrote. "Extenuating circumstances have made
the acceptance of this position unrealistic. My sincerest apologies are
extended to you, Mayor Segarra, the office of the mayor and the entire
city of Hartford for any confusion, consternation or dismay that my
sudden withdrawal may cause."
Segarra said Wednesday that he had
accepted Ray's withdrawal after learning about "information that was
not initially disclosed."
"Mr. Ray is a qualified individual
with solid references from former supervisors and community leaders,"
Segarra said. "However, public servants, especially those in leadership
positions, must be held to a higher standard."
Officials from the mayor's office
said Wednesday that the city's policy is to conduct background checks
on candidates on or before their first day of employment. The officials
said they were now looking into changing that policy.
A background check was initiated on
Ray after The Courant raised questions Tuesday about his criminal
history, they said.
Ray's criminal history includes a
1997 conviction for the sale of narcotics, a 1998 conviction for
possession of narcotics, a 1998 conviction for carrying a pistol
without a permit and a 2004 conviction for criminal possession of a gun.
Bruce Rubenstein, chairman of the
city's Internal Audit Commission, said Wednesday that the panel would
look into the matter.
The city announced on Tuesday that
Ray had been hired as deputy chief of staff. Ray served previously as
political and legislative director for the Connecticut Working Families
Lindsay Farrell, director of the
Connecticut Working Families Party, said Wednesday that Ray is a
"thoughtful, passionate" community organizer and that he and others who
have made mistakes should not be punished for the rest of their lives.
"He should be judged on the quality
of his work and commitment to the community," Farrell said. "I think
it's a bad call on their part."
Ray did not respond to requests for
Senior Information Specialist
Tina Lender contributed to this story.
2013, The Hartford Courant
MAYOR FINCH AND PAUL VALLAS (R)
Photo of action by the State Board of Education to take over the
Bridgeport Schools...so what is left for the elected
members of the City Council to do?
Education committee plays hooky
Brian Lockhart, CT POST
Updated 12:07 am, Friday, September 6, 2013
BRIDGEPORT --How many meetings has the City Council's Education
If they were school students, they
would have run out of excuses a long time ago and been sent to the
Even though Bridgeport is at the
center of a contentious national debate over reforming public schools,
the council's education and social services committee has been
paralyzed for almost two years.
While the council's six other
committees often convene monthly, the education group met only once
this year, in February, records show. A July meeting of the
seven-member committee was adjourned after only the two chairmen --
Councilwoman Denese Taylor-Moye, D-131, and her new co-chairman,
Councilman John Olson, D-132 -- showed up.
And although the city is beginning a
new school year, the committee cancelled its Sept. 11 meeting.
In 2012, the committee met at least
four times, based on available records, but couldn't conduct business
on one of those occasions because of poor attendance.
In contrast, there were eight
meetings in 2010 and six in 2011, typically to hear presentations or
vote on grants.
"The Education Committee is in a
weird situation," said Council President Thomas McCarthy, D-133. "Every
other committee has a specific, definite task in front of it."
Meanwhile, McCarthy said, most
education business is the responsibility of the elected Board of
Critics say there are plenty of
topics a proactive Education Committee could explore if members wanted
to exert their independence, starting with the multi-million-dollar
education budget the full City Council approves each year.
"The committee doesn't do anything
... They don't put anything on the agenda," said Councilman Andre
Baker, D-139, an Education Committee member who petitioned his way into
next week's Democratic school board primary.
Bridgeport's school district has
experienced a particularly tumultuous few years, beginning in 2011 with
the state takeover of the Board of Education quietly orchestrated by
Mayor Bill Finch's administration.
The state Supreme Court ruled the
takeover illegal in February 2012, so Finch and the council proposed
changing the City Charter to appoint the school board. Voters defeated
that initiative in November.
This year, a state Superior Court
Judge ruled that Bridgeport Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas, a
nationally known and controversial education reformer, was not
qualified for the job and had to leave office. That decision has been
delayed so the state Supreme Court can consider the city's appeal later
The Education Committee met once
with Vallas, hosting a meeting with the superintendent in February,
A year later, members met once with
new hire Joshua Thompson, the mayor's director of education and youth
whom Finch called his point man for education reform.
John Marshal Lee, a self-appointed
fiscal watchdog, believes too many council committees lack initiative.
"They set up council committees to act like catcher's mitts. The
pitcher is Mayor Finch. Most of what they catch is what he pitches,"
Marshal Lee said. "They're all reactive -- they're catching everything.
They're taking no initiative."
Taylor-Moye could not be reached for
comment. Olson was appointed as her cochairman a few months ago and
said he understands the criticism and hopes to make changes. Olson
faces a council primary next week.
"All committees really exist by
receiving proposals, mostly from the administration," Olson said. "So
we're going to have to create our own agenda ... If I'm re-elected,
which I may not be, I'll see what I can do with it."
Olson succeeded ex-Councilman Martin
McCarthy as Taylor-Moye's co-chairman. McCarthy was absent from many
council meetings last winter as he established his new restaurant, Fire
McCarthy resigned from the council
Thomas McCarthy said he asked Olson
to co-chair the Education Committee because of his past experience on
the school board.
"(The committee) can certainly
highlight issues and create a bully pulpit for change that the council
feels should be made for the Board of Education," McCarthy said.
"Occupy Wall Street" Mobilizes In Hartford
By JENNA CARLESSO,
5:10 PM EDT, October 4, 2011
The growing "Occupy Wall Street"
movement against corporate control and greed has found its way to
Hartford, where two gatherings are scheduled in Bushnell Park Wednesday
to plan what form the protest might take in the city.
Discussions about the protest,
modeled after the campaign that started three weeks ago in New York
City, started in Hartford last week, according to people involved with
They said that more than 60 people
attended a meeting Sunday at the Charter Oak Cultural Center to discuss
the movement, and several Facebook pages have been created to support
what's being called Occupy Hartford.
The two meetings, called general
assemblies, are planned for 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. in the park. They were
called so interested people could voice their concerns and discuss a
plan of action, some of those involved said. They said there may be
protests in connection with the events.
"To me, there's something inherently
wrong with the way things are going," said Wesley Strong, who has been
active in the Occupy Hartford Google Group, an online forum. "I think
others feel similarly, and want to do something about it."
Strong said he has struggled to find
stable work since graduating from Central Connecticut State University
in 2008. He said he is concerned about the economy and unemployment,
particularly among younger people.
"I think that's why these protests
have seen a lot of youth participation," Strong, 26, said. "It seems
there is a general discontent among people in this country over the way
things are going."
Peter Goselin, a Hartford lawyer
who's offering legal support to the Occupy Hartford group, said Tuesday
that concerns seem to be centered on corporate control of health care
through the insurance industry, unemployment and bank foreclosures and
He said the meetings Wednesday were
called so people could get together to make decisions about what to do
next. Some people may also bring signs or wear T-shirts to express
"The idea of conducting a democratic
meeting in the open where people can see is in sharp contrast to the
way business and politics is done now, where everything is behind
closed doors," Goselin said.
City Councilman Luis Cotto, who also
is involved in the movement, said one reason Occupy Hartford was formed
is because "people want to get out and show discontent."
"There's this idea of occupying a
space and then having rallies from there," he said. It's still unclear,
however, what parts of the city the group will occupy and what actions
it will take, he said.
Protests related to Occupy Wall
Street have spread to cities large and small across the country.
Demonstrators marched the streets of Los Angeles, gathered in front of
the Federal Reserve Bank in Chicago and rallied in Boston, according to
media reports. Rallies and gatherings were also planned in cities like
Memphis, Tenn., Hilo, Hawaii, and McAllen, Texas, according to the
Cotto said that some who attended
the meeting in Hartford Sunday expressed an interest in taking
immediate action, whether it be in the form of a march or a "sleep-in,"
in which people camp out overnight in various parts of the city.
"There were people ready to go that
evening," Cotto said, "but the overall consensus was that we should
meet on Wednesday."
Read this as if the fire were in Fairfield County.
Cut to tax credit
could open debate on
property tax reform
Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
September 12, 2011
Though many middle-class Connecticut
households will lose $200 next spring when a popular credit on their
state income tax return shrinks, there is a silver lining: Those same
filers will get nearly one-third of that cut back from the federal
And the head of an economic
think-tank at the University of Connecticut says that win-lose
arrangement is just one of the factors that underscores the
ineffectiveness of a state property tax credit that has enjoyed
tremendous popularity since it helped resolve a partisan tax battle in
Hartford 16 years ago. Professor
Fred Carstensen, head of the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis,
also said his unit recently launched a new research project into a
potential alternative to the credit, said the new cut also offers
an opportunity for policy-makers to re-examine a regressive property
levy that still dominates Connecticut's tax network.
"As I took a comprehensive look, I
couldn't identify any significant economic benefit to the property tax
credit," Carstensen said during an interview last week...full story here.
Wall Street's ride compounds states'
By MICHAEL GORMLEY - Associated Press
12 August, 2011
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Wall Street's volatility has hit state pension
funds just as they were beginning to recover from the recession,
turning what was merely a troubled forecast into a potentially stormy
future for taxpayers who are on the hook for billions in unfunded
liabilities for government retirees.
As for the millions of government
clerks, engineers, janitors, teachers and firefighters in the
retirement systems, they are protected by law or, as in New York, by
the state constitution, to be backed up by tax dollars if necessary.
Their benefits remain safe for life in guaranteed "defined benefit"
pension plans that are disappearing in the private sector, where most
employees are left to fend for themselves with 401(k) plans that they
mostly or entirely fund themselves.
California's main public-employee
pension fund, the nation's largest, has lost at least $18 billion off
its stock portfolio since July 1, about 7.5 percent of its $237.5
billion total asset value on June 30.
Florida's pension fund has lost
about $9 billion since June 30, a decline of 7 percent for a fund
valued at $119.4 billion on Thursday, while the Virginia Retirement
System shrank from $54.5 billion on June 30 to about $51 billion by
week's end, a decline of 6.4 percent, said its director, Robert P.
New York's state comptroller will
not say how much the state pension fund has lost during the latest Wall
Street roller coaster, but the fund was 5 percent below its
pre-recession value before the recent losses and remained nearly $8
billion below its pre-recession value.
And Kentucky, which has more than
$20 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, has seen the value of its
public pension fund decline $1.7 billion — or 15 percent — since July
1, falling to a total value of $9.7 billion.
Nationwide, states have a combined
$689.5 billion in unfunded pension liabilities and $418 billion in
government retiree health care obligations, according to data collected
earlier this year by The Associated Press. Those benefits are protected
by state law or, as in New York, by the constitution.
Pension fund managers say there is
no risk current government retirees will miss a monthly check and that
they are remaining calm and taking the long view in their investments.
Some say the market plunge is even providing a great opportunity to buy
stocks at fire-sale prices.
Kentucky Retirement Systems Chief
Investor T.J. Carlson said his fund has not made significant changes to
its investments in response to the market turmoil.
"We haven't changed our long-term
strategy in any way," he said.
Critics of the defined benefit
plans, which guarantee pensions for life to public employees and are
rarely found any longer in the private sector, say the recent stock
market plunge underscores the need for fundamental changes.
The amount state and local
governments are being forced to funnel into pension payments is rising
as retirees live longer and elected officials have awarded more
generous pension benefits in recent years, taking taxpayer money away
from core public services.
At the same, pension funds promise
returns on investments — 7 percent to 8 percent or more a year — that
many critics say are unrealistic in the future.
E.J. McMahon, a senior fellow at the
conservative Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, said the asset
levels of virtually all public pension funds are below 2007 levels
despite the recovery of the market in 2009 and 2010.
"They still think there is a
'long-term norm,'" he said of fund managers. "The events of the last
two months are a reminder of how wrong that might be."
As recently as last month,
California's two public pension funds reported investment gains of more
than 20 percent for the fiscal year ended June 30, largely driven by
rising stock values.
The increase came as both funds —
one for teachers, the other for state and local government workers —
were clawing their way back from losses in 2008 and 2009 that cost them
up to one-third of their asset value.
The recent losses are stoking fears
again that taxpayers will have to bail them out at the expense of other
programs that already have been subject to deep budget cuts. The state
already faces an estimated $75 billion in unfunded public pension
"The stock market volatility just
shows that the public budget should not be subject to the Dow Jones
Industrial Average," said Dan Pellissier, president of California
Pension Reform, a group that is preparing a ballot initiative to limit
the amounts governments can spend for future pensions.
Pellissier himself will qualify for
a $5,000-a-month state pension when he turns 55 in five years after
working in state government for two decades. Despite his own government
pension, Pellissier said public employees should bear the investment
risk for retirement benefits just as private-sector employees do
through 401(k) plans.
New York state Comptroller Thomas
DiNapoli said public pension funds work well. New York has reduced
pension benefits in the past year for newly hired workers and lowered
its performance outlook to 7.5 percent, while most states remain at 8
"This is a fund that has worked and
been able to pay out benefits for 90 years," he said. Managers also
note the "funding ratio," which is the percentage of the fund needed to
pay out all its obligations, is more than 80 percent in many states,
which pension managers say is positive.
As an example of pension funds
adapting to meet changing conditions, the $51 billion Pennsylvania
Public School Employees' Retirement System increased its cash
allocation to 8 percent after the 2008 market crash so it could pay
benefits without having to sell assets. It has lost as much as 3
percent in value since July 1.
After a strong showing last year in
a rebounding market, many state pension fund managers are confident
they will ride out the latest gut-churning gyrations on Wall Street.
While Virginia's fund has an
unfunded liability of $17.6 billion, it diversified after the stock
market losses in 2008 and 2009, allowing it to better weather stock
market swings. New Jersey's pension portfolio is more diverse than ever
and includes real estate, hedge funds and private equity investments.
"It's a hedge against the kind of
market conditions we've seen over the past two weeks," state Treasury
spokesman Andy Pratt said. "We have significant protection against the
ups and downs of the stock market we're seeing now."
He said returns for the last fiscal
year were between 17.5 percent and 18.5 percent, the best year since
In Massachusetts, investments are
being diversified and loopholes to accrue pension benefits are being
closed. The state also added 15 years to its deadline for fully funding
the retirement system, pushing it to 2040.
Julie Graham-Price, spokeswoman for
Ohio's Public Employees Retirement System, said the fund's bond
holdings gained this week even as stock values sunk, evidence of a
"We have no idea yet what July and
August will look like except to say it's not good when the market is
volatile and has dropped like it has," said David Urbanek, spokesman
for the Illinois Teachers Retirement System. "It's a cyclical thing. We
will ride it out, just as we have overcome numerous other downturns
over the last 72 years."
Even with the steady-as-she-goes
response from pension fund managers, critics of the system say
taxpayers should be nervous about their future liabilities to
government retirees, said Jim Waters, vice president of the Bluegrass
Institute, a nonpartisan group that has pressed for a defined
contribution system for government employees in Kentucky.
"Without pension reform, Kentucky
could be headed for bankruptcy and the inability to provide necessary
services for its neediest citizens," he said. "Kentucky's been in a
hole for a while now, but continues to dig ... There's no way we can
rely solely on the stock market or even individual contributions alone
to close the liability gap."
writers Roger D. Alford in Frankfort, Ky.; Angela Delli Santi in
Trenton, N.J.; Bill Kaczor in Tallahassee, Fla.; Johanna Kaiser in
Boston; Bob Lewis in Richmond, Va.; Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Pa.;
Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio; Adam Weintraub in Sacramento,
Calif.; and Christopher Wills in Springfield, Ill., contributed to this
Over 3000 by mid-August
administration to ax 328 state
Article published Jul 13, 2011
HARTFORD (AP) — The Malloy administration will lay off 328 state
employees in the first wave of job cuts as it seeks to balance the
two-year, $40.1 billion budget.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy released details of job reductions Wednesday. The
governor's office says the Department of Corrections will take the
brunt of the layoffs as it loses 222 jobs. Of those, 191 are correction
The state plans to close the Bergin Correctional Institution in
Mansfield in August and the Enfield Correctional Institution in Enfield
The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services is losing 89
jobs and the remaining cuts are from three other agencies.
Malloy said Tuesday that because of state rules governing layoffs,
employees can be required to leave in two, four or six weeks.
States and unions struggle over public
Mark Pazniokas, CT MIRROR
February 4, 2011
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's call for
labor concessions puts him on a growing list of Democratic governors
and mayors who are demanding a permanent, new relationship with the
organized labor allies who helped elect them. Jerry Brown in California, Andrew Cuomo
in New York, Deval Patrick in Massachusetts and Malloy in Connecticut
are making the case that present levels of public-sector compensation
no longer can be sustained.
It's a trend that Barry Bluestone, a
Northeastern University economist and longtime friend of labor, says
has brought public employees to a watershed moment in politics and
"This is not the right, this is
progressive liberals on the left," Bluestone said of Malloy and the
other governors. "I think that's starting to have an effect on many of
these unions of saying, 'Well, we've to figure out a new way of doing
our business.' "
To Bluestone, that new way of doing
business must mean re-examining benefits and shedding most work-place
rules and job classifications that hamper governors and mayors from
cutting costs. He is
an unlikely advocate for the proposition that unions should surrender
hard-bargained work rules and benefits to avoid a public backlash and
the abandonment by political allies.
Bluestone, 66, is the son of Irving
Bluestone, a key lieutenant to Walter Reuther, the founder of the
United Auto Workers, whose contracts set the pace for broad swaths of
the workforce, helping to grow the middle class. He still sees unions as an important
force for social and economic justice.
But Bluestone, who worked in a Ford
parts plant as a college student in Michigan, said the decline of the
UAW from 1.5 million members in the early 1960s to fewer than 465,000
today is a cautionary lesson for public-sector unions.
In July 2009, he wrote a commentary
for the Boston Globe that posed a provocative question, "A future for
Bluestone reported that between 2000
and 2008, the price of state and local public services increased by 41
percent nationally compared with 27 percent in private services. Faced with their own stagnant wages and
the threat of job losses, private-sector workers have become more
insistent on a leaner, more productive public-sector workforce,
"Union leaders may think that by
working diligently to elect friendly public officials, they can fend
off the day of reckoning," he wrote in The Globe. "But that day is fast
Bluestone said he was moved to write
the piece after seeing Democratic labor allies such as Boston Mayor
Thomas Menino break with unions over issues like experimental charter
schools, which tend to be non-union. Then the economic crisis hit,
exacerbating the pressure on state and local governments that had been
building over the cost of long-term obligations, such as debt, pensions
and retiree health liabilities.
"I just saw all of this leading to a
point where the unions really would be taking a lot of hits, not just
from conservatives, but from liberals," Bluestone said. "I was
basically saying, 'Guys wake up. This is coming down the pike.' "
The reaction of his friends in labor
was surprisingly positive, he said.
"I had some of my friends in the
labor movement who castigated me for playing into the hands of the
right wing and just giving them more ammunition," Bluestone said. "In
fact, that was not the general reaction."
He has become a sought-after speaker
on the subject of challenges to public-sector unions. Last week, he
participated in a three-day retreat attended by Massachusetts
officials, including the governor, and CEOs, foundation heads and union
"There was a really lively
discussion about what are some of the things the unions can do, and how
can we create this new labor-management environment that will be good
for teachers and other public employees, but also good for the
commonwealth," Bluestone said.
On Monday, he addressed an economic
conference in Hartford sponsored by the Partnership for Strong
who taught at Boston College while Malloy was a B.C. undergraduate,
sees Malloy as the latest in a long line of progressive Democrats on a
collision course with labor. On Thursday, Malloy described the current
compensation levels of state-employee as unsustainable and said that
labor concessions would be part of his plan to erase a structural
deficit of $3.7 billion.
Bluestone's message is neither being
embraced, nor rejected by Connecticut labor leaders. Larry Dorman, an AFSCME employee and a
spokesman for the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, and
Connecticut AFL-CIO president John Olsen, each said that public-sector
employees are not responsible for the state's fiscal crisis.
"We're in an economic crisis caused
by Wall Street and corporate America. It was exacerbated by Bush tax
cuts," Dorman said.
He agrees with Bluestone about the
danger faced by public employee unions losing the battle for public
opinion. And labor already is engaged in a high-profile fight with New
Haven Mayor John Destefano, who was supported by labor the 2006
campaign for governor, over pensions.
"There is blood in the water," he
said. "Of course, we are concerned."
But he is unwilling to concede that
the biggest political danger to unions lays with its erstwhile
"It is in the end being driven by
right wing ideologues and corporate America," Dorman said. "That is the
State employees expected to
negotiate with Malloy, just as they did with Gov. M. Jodi Rell two
years ago, when they gave back $600 million in benefits and allowed the
state to defer a $300 million pension contribution. Olsen said he rejected the idea that
public-sector employees must give up on pensions and good health
coverage, just because corporations have succeeded in taking away those
benefits from their employees.
"It's sad. Because I lost my legs, I
want to cut your legs off?" Olsen asked. "That's pretty much where we
are. I believe everybody should have a pension, everybody should have
As for more flexible work rules?
"You always need to sit down in good
faith and bargain," Olsen said. "You're always looking at what's being
put on the table."
Barnes, moving toward confirmation, hints at budget plans
Ken Dixon, Staff Writer
Published: 07:38 p.m., Thursday, January 20, 2011
HARTFORD -- Benjamin Barnes of Stratford, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's
candidate for financial chief, gave lawmakers a look Thursday at likely
tactics for reducing the state's multibillion-dollar deficit.
During a 90-minute hearing on his nomination, Barnes indicated that
schools may obtain continued levels of support over the next two years;
agency consolidations are being planned to save money; and that
"significant" investments in transportation infrastructure would mean
more construction jobs in the state.
Barnes said the budget deficit scheduled to take effect July 1 is now
less than $3.4 billion, thanks to a slight increase in tax revenues,
but it is still formidable.
Barnes stressed that "voluntary" cooperation may be requested among
cities and towns, but without a county form of government the state
cannot force its communities to work together.
Later in the afternoon, he was easily confirmed by Senate members of
the joint legislative Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee.
His nomination to become secretary of the Office of Policy and
Management heads to the Senate for a final vote.
Barnes said that he is reviewing many of the state's tax exemptions,
which, if put back on the books, would mean billions of extra dollars
in revenue for the state
Barnes -- a former longtime aide of Malloy's when he was mayor of
Stamford and whose most recent job was as an executive with the
Bridgeport Board of Education -- said the lingering recession creates
major problems in continuing levels of state services.
"I personally believe that we should not accept that bad times and
budget deficits are reason to defer our aspirations for progress and
improvement," he said. "Government needs to be better run and we will
find a way to do that within any resources we have available."
He said the Educational Cost Sharing formula that the state uses to
support local school districts is crucial to maintaining schools and at
least holding the line on local property taxes.
Under questioning from Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney, D-New
Haven, co-chairman of the committee, Barnes said possibly combining
some of the 15 regional Councils of Government (COGs) could be
But he's aware of the state's history of home rule among 169 towns and
"We should be pursuing a long-term policy of strengthening them that
may involve reducing the number of them," he said. "I'm open to hearing
that although I also understand that regional cooperation should be
voluntary. Towns in Connecticut are long-standing entities and their
home rule is something they take very seriously."
he'll protect them from spending cuts
Governor says he will balance budget
without harming municipalities
By Matt Collette Day Staff Writer
Article published Jan 20, 2011
Cromwell - Cities
and towns will not feel the brunt of state spending cuts, Gov.
Dannel P. Malloy said Wednesday, even as he pledged to balance the
deficit-plagued state budget. Still, he told civic leaders at the
annual meeting of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns, reforms will
"I'm not going to change this
overnight," said Malloy, speaking to a packed ballroom at the Crowne
Plaza Hotel and Conference Center. "If you have me back here next year,
I'll probably be able to say a few things we've done. But things have
been going in the wrong direction in Hartford for far too many years."
He did, however, promise to
deliver a balanced state budget that does not break the backs of cities
"What we're in the process of
doing right now … is figuring out where we can spend our money, what's
reasonable, what's equitable," Malloy said. "And every day, I am
thinking about not hurting cities and towns, not hurting boards of
Malloy said that cities and
towns have long lived under the budgeting system - Generally Accepted
Accounting Principles - that the state government is just now adopting,
prompted by an executive order the governor signed moments after his
"I understand, I think,
better than most how hard your job is," said Malloy, who served 14
years as mayor of Stamford. "I want to work with you. On the other
hand, I want to create a truly balanced budget, one that complies with
For years, Malloy said, state
lawmakers have far outspent their means, creating a massive deficit the
state must now address. The nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis
projects a $3.7 billion state deficit for 2011-12.
"That allowed bad
decision-making to go on for such a long period of time because we
believed the day of reckoning would never come, or it would come so
infrequently that we could borrow our way out."
Borrowing to meet operating
expenses, Malloy said, is not an option. Instead, the state will have
to restructure the way it operates by consolidating agencies and
reducing layers of management, moving decision-making powers closer to
the level where state employees interact directly with the public.
"You have found ways to
flatten your management structure," Malloy said. "If you take your
public works department, you probably have a manager or a commissioner,
probably an assistant and then a couple of supervisors. Then everyone
else is directly involved in providing services to the town."
State government, he said, needs to
be structured in a similar way.
"We've got to reinvent
ourselves," he said.
Malloy said he would push the
legislature to act quickly on at least the spending half of the budget,
giving municipalities an idea of what to expect from the state when
they are drafting their budgets. Though his address offered a commitment
to help cities and towns as much as possible, Malloy had few specific
examples of how he would do that. That information, Malloy said, would
come Feb. 16, when he gives the governor's annual budget address to the
He said he was open to
signing legislation that would allow cities and towns to levy hotel or
local sales taxes, a way to broaden the tax base so municipal
governments are less reliant on property taxes. Malloy also said he would work to ensure
that school districts would receive as much education money as
possible. In recent years, the state slashed its Education Cost Sharing
grants, replacing those funds with federal stimulus money that is no
"I'll go as far as I can - or
go completely - to keep communities from being harmed by that," Malloy
said. He also said
that Connecticut has much work to do to improve its transportation
infrastructure and education system to make the state more
"We're dead last for job
growth," Malloy said. "We're probably going to rank dead-last, or in
the bottom five of all 50 states, in terms of getting those jobs back."
Malloy received a standing
ovation at the beginning and end of his talk, which lasted about 30
minutes, followed by a brief question-and-answer period. He boasted
that he was the first governor to speak to the group since John
Rowland, a silent reminder that Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell never
appeared before the Council of Small Towns at its annual meeting.
"I think I am making news
today," Malloy said. "I showed up."
The Mother Nature variety, as show above, in her July 4th spectaculars
Washington, D.C. and Weston.
RTM chairmanship in state of flux
Neil Vigdor, Greenwich TIME
Published 06:51 p.m., Saturday, July 7, 2012
The status of one of the top office holders in the Representative Town
Meeting, whose fellow committee members have accused him of
overstepping his authority, is in limbo without a specific road map for
adjudicating the rare feud because of questions over parliamentary
The RTM Finance Committee voted in May to form a special investigatory
panel to look into alleged misconduct by the group's chairman, Gordon
Ennis, who is said to be at odds with his colleagues over the sharing
of internal documents such as emails and reports, as well as the tenor
of their communications. But the probe, which is expected to be
spearheaded by Joan Caldwell, the legislative body's second in command,
has yet to get under way.
"The question becomes, do they have the right to set up such a
committee?" Caldwell told Greenwich Time. "And if they do, fine. And if
they don't, who does?"
A recent update of "Robert's Rules of Order", which prescribes
different sets of procedures for removing a governing body officer
dependent on whether the person has a set term length, is further
complicating the process.
"It's about the procedures," Caldwell said. "Until we're sure that the
procedure is being protected and that the RTM, the committee and I are
on solid ground, there's a reluctance to go forward. It could work out
fine this time, become a precedent and next time be challenged."
Town Attorney John Wayne Fox rendered a legal opinion that the Finance
Committee was within its power to create the special panel, but that it
needs to be ratified either by RTM Moderator Thomas Byrne or a vote of
the full 230-member legislative body.
"Depending upon what they find, there could be hearings down the road,"
A message seeking comment was left for Byrne, who earlier this year met
with Ennis and aggrieved committee members to try to mediate the
dispute. All but two of the committee's 12 members then backed a
motion to remove Ennis "for cause," but the coup attempt was thwarted
after the town attorney concluded the action did not follow due
process. Additional questions linger over who will ultimately
decide Ennis' fate as chairman, a position he has held for the past 2
"It is my opinion it would not be appropriate for the Finance Committee
to be the trier of fact when the Finance Committee has already taken a
vote and made a determination as to what it feels ought to be the final
outcome," Fox said.
Ennis acknowledged that the feud has taken its toll on the committee,
which is charged with reviewing nine-figure town budgets, labor
contracts and other fiscal policy matters.
"I'm afraid we're in for some tough sailing," Ennis said. "I don't know
that the committee can be effective."
Those familiar with the rift say it stems in large part from a special
report on town property leases that was compiled by several of Ennis'
subordinates, who then became irked when the chairman tried to
unilaterally edit the document. Relations between Ennis and his
Finance Committee colleagues became so strained that they accused him
of freezing them out of electronic and written correspondence, as well
as name-calling. Among those Finance Committee members with whom
Ennis is known to have clashed is Rob Perelli-Minetti, co-chairman of
the group that prepared the lease report.
Perelli-Minetti declined to comment on the basis of the pending
investigation or to address Ennis' statements. Ennis expressed
his frustration with what he characterized as a lack of cooperation and
follow-through by committee members.
"Some of the new additions are just not of the caliber of the people we
had in the last session," Ennis said. "The performance of the Finance
Committee during this last budget review that was completed in May was
just dismal and very disappointing. You can't just mail it in and
that's what actually happened."
Town Meetings Lauded By
Some, Lamented By Others
By MARK SPENCER | Courant Staff Writer
May 9, 2008
Partisans of the town
meeting form of government cherish it as a centuries-old tradition that
is as New England as clam chowder and as sacred as democracy itself.
But supporters of the town manager-elected council form of government,
who see that approach as a wellspring of good, efficient government,
describe the town meeting as outmoded and dysfunctional. They say the
Yankee aversion to change has prevented towns from adopting modern
forms of government prevalent in the rest of the country, hobbling them
as they face increasingly complex challenges.
The divide is no more evident than at this time of year, when thousands
of residents in more than 100 towns in the state decide the fate of
local budgets. In the coming weeks at town meetings across the state,
cantankerous codgers will sit beside well-scrubbed, earnest young
parents in school auditoriums and meeting halls to shout yes or no,
influencing the next local tax bill that arrives in their mailboxes and
the services they get from their towns and schools.
Paul Fetherston is relieved that he will not be around to see it. He
recently left his job as Canton's chief administrative officer,
frustrated at what he sees as an inability to get things done in local
"The Northeast is known nationally for its reluctance to change at the
municipal level," said Fetherston, who also has been town manager in
Newington and worked in East Hartford and Simsbury.
Fetherston was raised in Connecticut and says he loves it here, but he
is leaving the state to become a deputy city manager in Boulder, Colo.,
where he expects to find what he views as a more progressive way of
Although some towns only use the town meeting for big decisions, such
as the budget, others, including Canton, rely on it for even minor
matters, such as approving all ordinances or accepting grants of more
Low attendance at town meetings leaves decisions on increasingly
complex issues in the hands of a few, opponents say. They argue that
such matters are better left in the hands of trained professionals and
an elected council.
"We have a disconnected public that doesn't know the issues and doesn't
have time to know the issues," Fetherston said. "There has to be a
reason to elect people. If you don't like the decisions they make, you
can vote them out of office."
But Frank M. Bryan, a political science professor at the University of
Vermont, is an enthusiastic supporter of town meetings. He calls them
"the schoolhouse of democracy," in which every citizen is a legislator.
He said the dialogue in town meetings educates people and leads to
"The people assembled usually bring out the arguments for and against
something and give it a good airing," Bryan said.
When it comes to Connecticut Yankees, you can't beat Sam Humphrey. At
85, it doesn't take much prodding for him to tell you his family goes
back eight generations in Canton. "It's only here in New England where
individuals have the right to decide things," Humphrey said. "That's a
privilege that is as close as you can get to a true democracy."
Home rule in Connecticut allows towns to determine the form of
government they use, and that has led to a hodgepodge of approaches.
The town meeting is the ultimate authority on at least some decisions
in the 106 of the state's 169 municipalities that have elected boards
of selectmen, according to the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.
Under a manager-council government, the manager prepares the budget for
council review and approval. Berlin eliminated town meetings in favor
of a manager and council in 1994, although it still has budget
"People were not inclined to come out," said Fred Jortner, who was an
elected official in Berlin before and after the change. "There were a
handful of people controlling town finances."
Berlin proved that even reserved New Englanders can change their ways.
The controversial switch to a town manager was initially approved by a
55-vote margin. Four years later, a referendum to switch back to the
town meeting was defeated by a 2-to-1 ratio.
Bonnie Therrien, town manager in Berlin before taking the same job in
Wethersfield, said administrators who come from out of state often
don't last long when confronted with a system they see as antiquated
"It just drives them crazy," she said.
The situation is particularly acute when it comes to budgets, which
administrators spend months developing with their staffs and elected
boards. Even in the smallest of towns, spending plans run into the
millions these days. Residents who vote at a town meeting may or may
not understand the budget.
Berlin's town manager, Roger Kemp, who worked in California and New
Jersey, said he had never heard of a town meeting before coming to
"People always vote no because they can," he said. "People vote their
In a nod to the limits of the town meeting and decreasing
participation, towns are increasingly holding referendums on their
For managers, that has its own problems. Some towns hold automatic
referendums after the town meeting; others require residents to
petition for one. Some set a limit on the number that can be held;
others allow as many as it takes to win approval.
Michael E. Morrell, an assistant professor of political science at the
University of Connecticut, said the trend is away from town meetings
and toward referendums to vote on budgets. He cited statistics from the
state Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations that showed
the number of budget town meetings decreased from 60 in 2004 to 50 last
year. The number of referendums increased from 62 in 2004 to 73 in 2007.
Town officials are watching to see whether it's even more difficult
this year. Budgets in Berlin, Plainville and Farmington have already
been defeated in referendums.
Jortner, who served on the Berlin council, acknowledged that elected
officials face pressure to keep taxes low, but said they have the
long-term best interests of the town at heart.
Tim Tieperman came from Pennsylvania to become town manager in Tolland.
The town initially did not have automatic referendums, but that changed
several years after he arrived.
"It was a marathon of budget referendums before it got passed," he
said. "That is when I said, 'This is enough.'"
He left and is now a city manager in his home state.
Bryan, who also teaches public administration courses, empathizes with
the frustration town managers have with town meetings — to a point.
"It's a pain in the ass," he said. "Democracy is, and always will be."
Gene Chamberlain recently moved with his family from a suburb of
Chicago to Farmington, where last month he spoke at his first budget
town meeting. When he learned of the system, he said, he thought it was
"If you elect people for an office, you are essentially saying you
trust that group to do what is best for the town," he said.
Humphrey, of Canton, started attending town meetings with his father at
age 8 and estimates that he has been to about 250, despite being out of
town for 23 years while he was in the Air Force. Anyone who wants to
mess with his town meetings is looking for a fight.
He said he has never seen a town meeting make a bad decision, and he
dismisses professional town administrators who say the time for them
"It's outmoded because it's a nuisance to them," Humphrey said. "They
want to be dictators."
Taking Different Approaches On Taxes, With Malloy Offering Few Clues
By DANIELA ALTIMARI, email@example.com
January 28, 2013
In red-state America, Republican governors such as Bobby Jindal of
Louisiana and Sam Brownback of Kansas have a big goal: Eliminate state
income taxes in favor of higher sales taxes.
But in Massachusetts, officials are considering the reverse. Democratic
Gov. Deval Patrick wants to increase the income tax and cut the sales
Connecticut's Democratic governor, Dannel P. Malloy, is due to release
his budget plan on Feb. 6. So far, he has offered few clues about how
he intends to deal with a deficit projected to exceed $1 billion for
the next fiscal year. The budget itself will top $20 billion.
"What I've said is, I don't plan on raising taxes,'' Malloy told
reporters after the State Bond Commission meeting Friday. "It doesn't
mean that every tax that would otherwise expire will expire.''
Malloy is unlikely to propose a plan as far-reaching as the one
proposed by Patrick. "Why? The Politics 101 answer is that he's not a
lame duck," said Jerrold Duquette, an associate professor of political
science at Central Connecticut State University.
Patrick's decision not to run for re-election has freed him from the
constraints of politics and allowed him to pursue a sweeping liberal
agenda, said Duquette, who lives in Longmeadow, Mass., and is a member
of his town's Democratic committee.
In contrast, Malloy faces a potentially bruising re-election bid in
Malloy's critics on the right say they do not expect him to emulate
Jindal or Brownback. But they wish he'd take a page from New York Gov.
Andrew Cuomo's playbook. Cuomo, a Democrat, put forth a budget plan
last week that is largely cobbled together from spending cuts, fee
hikes and new gambling revenues.
"Gov. Cuomo is holding the line on spending and refusing to raise
taxes,'' said Fergus Cullen, executive director of the Yankee Institute
for Public Policy, an East Hartford-based think tank that advocates for
small government and lower taxes. "I've long argued that Gov. Malloy
ought to be more like Gov. Cuomo."
Cullen said he had high hopes in 2010, when Malloy edged out Republican
"Just like only Nixon could go to China, only a Democratic governor
with labor support could make a convincing case for fiscal restraint,
for holding the line on spending,'' Cullen said. "Instead, he raised
taxes and fed every interest group. ... He had a huge political
opportunity that Gov. Foley never would have had and he blew it."
Under the mantra of "shared sacrifice," Malloy ushered in the largest
tax increase in the state's history in 2011.
"That was a road New York and Massachusetts didn't go down,'' said Sen.
John McKinney of Fairfield, the Republican leader in the state Senate.
"We now have a tremendous opportunity to say to people and businesses
that we're not going to raise taxes any more … that we're going to be
But Malloy's approach also won praise.
"To his credit, Gov. Malloy made the hard decisions already and put the
state back toward the path toward sustainability,'' said Jon Shure,
director of state fiscal strategies for the Center on Budget and Policy
Priorities, a nonpartisan research center that works on public programs
that affect low- and moderate-income people.
Raising taxes is rarely popular: Public opinion polls by Quinnipiac
University since March 2011 have consistently shown the Connecticut
governor's job approval rating below 50 percent.
But the approach favored by Jindal, who is widely believed to be
planning a run for the White House in 2016, and other Republican
governors, has also been met with mixed reaction. A Rasmussen Reports
poll of 1,000 likely voters throughout the nation found 41 percent do
not think that eliminating a state's income tax in exchange for an
increase in the sales tax is a worthy tradeoff.
Shure likened the strategy of scrapping the income tax to boost a
state's economy to "saying your car will go faster if you take the
engine out." He added: "For the most part, governors in the region are
staying away from those shortsighted moves that we're seeing in other
parts of the country."
But budget-crafting, like much in politics, is largely dependent on
local dynamics. In Massachusetts, Patrick proposes cutting the sales
tax by 1.75 percent in exchange for a package of $1.9 billion in new
taxes to pay for education and transportation initiatives. His plan
would increase the income tax from 5.25 percent to 6.25 percent,
eliminating dozens of deductions, linking the gas tax to inflation and
new taxes on candy and soda.
Meanwhile, just up the road in Maine, the Republican governor, Paul
LePage, is calling for $200 million in cuts to local aid this year
after pushing through the largest tax cut in state history in 2011.
Given the fragile nature of the economic recovery, many governors are
reluctant to raise taxes — or able to propose broad-based tax cuts. "A
lot of states are still constrained pretty tightly and some of that is
a function of their own bad decisions in the past,'' said Don Boyd, a
senior fellow with the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government in
Albany. "It's not 'happy days are here again.'"
Even Chris Christie, New Jersey's enormously popular Republican
governor, might find it difficult to cut taxes this year, Boyd said.
But the state budget maneuvers of 2013 might prove easy compared to the
troubles looming on the horizon, Boyd said, citing rising health care
costs and the likelihood of sharp reductions in federal aid.
"There's lots to worry about," he said.
New Jersey Lawmakers Approve Benefits Rollback for Work Force
By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA
June 23, 2011
TRENTON — New Jersey lawmakers on Thursday approved a broad rollback of
benefits for three-quarters of a million government workers and
retirees, the deepest cut in state and local costs in memory, in a
major victory for Gov. Chris Christie and a once-unthinkable setback
for the state’s powerful public employee unions.
The Assembly passed the bill 46 to 32 on Thursday, as Republicans and a
few Democrats defied raucous protests by thousands of people whose
chants, vowing electoral revenge, shook the State House. Leaders in the
State Senate said their chamber, which had already passed a slightly
different version of the bill, would approve the Assembly version on
Monday, and Mr. Christie, a Republican, was expected to quickly sign
the measure into law.
The legislation will sharply increase what state and local workers must
contribute for their health insurance and pensions, suspend
cost-of-living increases to retirees’ pension payments, raise
retirement ages and curb the unions’ contract bargaining rights. It
will save local and state governments $132 billion over the next 30
years, by the administration’s estimate, and give the troubled benefit
systems a sounder financial footing, mostly by shifting costs onto
While states around the country have moved to pare labor costs and
limit the power of unions, the move is all the more striking here, in a
Democratic-leaning state where Democrats control both houses of the
Legislature and union membership is among the highest in the country.
Most Democratic legislators opposed the benefits reductions, but their
leaders voted in favor of the changes, exposing deep, longstanding
rifts within the party that lawmakers say could weaken it in coming
Along the San Andreas Fault?
Click above for the answer, but it looks to us as if this is not
important to the secession talk.
Counties Talk of Cutting Ties to State
12 July 2011
RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Natives here have long called this area
the Inland Empire, a grand title for a stretch of cities about 50 miles
east of Los Angeles. Now, a few political leaders are hoping this
empire will lead a movement to break off from the State of California.
Frustrated by a state government he calls “completely dysfunctional”
and “totally unresponsive,” a conservative Republican county supervisor
is pushing a proposal for roughly a dozen counties in the eastern and
southern parts of the nation’s third-largest state — conspicuously not
including the heavily Democratic city of Los Angeles — to form a new
state to be called South California.
“We have businesses leaving all the time, and we’re just driving down a
cliff to become a third-world economy,” said the supervisor, Jeff
Stone, who once ran for the Legislature. “Anyone you ask has a horror
story. At some point we have to decide enough is enough and deal with
it in a radically new way.”
He added: “I am tired of California being the laughingstock of
late-night jokes. We must change course immediately or create a new
Mr. Stone’s list of complaints is long — too much money spent on state
prisons, too much power for public unions, too many regulations and not
enough of a crackdown on illegal immigration. It seems clear that he
has struck a nerve in some quarters; he said that his office has been
inundated with thousands of e-mails, letters and phone calls supporting
his call for secession.
“I’m 59 and have lived here all my life,” one man from Anaheim wrote.
“I’m about to leave the state, but if we could break from the liberal
counties I’d stay. God bless you and let me know if I can help.”
While several other county supervisors initially dismissed the notion
of seceding, on Tuesday the board unanimously approved Mr. Stone’s
proposal to plan a conference for California municipal leaders to
discuss ways to fix state government or consider secession — although
they said they would make sure that no county money or personnel were
used to plan such an event.
In many respects, the rest of the state can feel worlds apart from the
scenes of sandy beaches and lush wine groves that California is known
for. And while the rest of the country thinks about the
northern-southern divide of the state, for years the largest
differences have been between the coastal and inland areas.
Outside the biggest cities, the landscape is dotted with orange groves
instead of palm trees and deserts instead of coastlines, an environment
that is generally more rural than urban. The population tends to be
poorer and more socially and politically conservative — Republicans
outnumber Democrats in all but three of the counties in Mr. Stone’s
proposed new state, which includes San Diego.
Calling for secession in difficult economic times is not a new idea —
more than 200 such proposals to break up California have been floated
since the state was formed in 1850. In 1992, several northern counties
held an advisory vote on secession, but it ultimately went nowhere.
The closest any campaign came to success was in 1941, when several
counties in Northern California and southern Oregon campaigned to form
the state of Jefferson. At the time, the counties said they did not
have enough roads and created a “Proclamation of Independence” for the
49th state — Alaska and Hawaii had not yet joined the union.
But just as the movement was gaining traction, Pearl Harbor was
attacked, and residents put aside their dreams for a new state to work
on the war effort.
Calls to break from the rest the state are not unique to California.
Parts of Texas, Florida and Idaho have all tried to divide from their
home state in the last several decades. Although the details differ,
the story line is basically the same — one part of the state believes
it is getting short shrift from the capital.
“The politics of victimhood are very powerful,” said Shaun Bowler, a
political science professor at the University of California, Riverside.
Mr. Stone’s effort taps into an angry undercurrent among many
conservatives in the eastern part of the state. “People have been mad
for a long time. They seem to have a sense that if they keep shouting
louder that they are right that they will convince the rest of the
state that they are right.”
Under Mr. Stone’s proposal the state would have only a part-time
Legislature, with lawmakers earning $600 a month. And there would be no
term limits. One crucial element of California’s budget structure (and
an article of faith among Republicans) would remain: a strict limit on
Mr. Stone said he was particularly angered when the state’s budget
diverted roughly $14 million from several newly incorporated cities in
Riverside County. Jurupa Valley, for example, lost $6.4 million from
its anticipated budget just a day before it was officially
During the hourlong discussion of the proposal on Tuesday, the debate
brought into clear focus the divide between Republicans and Democrats.
Several speakers said they were angered by comments from Gov. Jerry
Brown’s spokesman, who suggested that anyone who wanted to live with
“very conservative right-wing laws” could simply move to neighboring
(The spokesman, Gil Duran, did not back down Tuesday, saying that the
idea of secession was a “pure joke that doesn’t merit serious
attention.” He pointed out that the area Mr. Stone wants to peel off
collects more money from the state than it generates. He added, “It’s
an escapist fantasy of someone more interested in a political stunt
than focusing on his job.”)
Bob Buster, the chairman of the Board of Supervisors, initially called
Mr. Stone’s idea a “crazy distraction.” But he acknowledged that there
was much to be unhappy about.
“There is a chronic unhappiness we have with the state that we cannot
shake,” said Mr. Buster, who is not a registered member of either
party. “We’re already balkanized in this state. The problem is
governance itself, but we need to work to fix the problems, not spend
time talking about just taking our marbles and leaving.” .
Governor Vetoes Budget
By JENNIFER MEDINA
June 16, 2011
LOS ANGELES — Gov. Jerry Brown of California on Thursday ’vetoed the
state budget that the Democratic-controlled state Legislature had
passed the day before, saying that the proposal merely papered over the
state’s long-term deficit and added billions in new debt.
The veto means that the governor will have to reopen negotiations with
the Legislature to try to get his plan to close a $10 billion gap
approved. In order to pass that plan, which relies on extending some
taxes that were set to expire this year, Mr. Brown needs votes from two
Republicans in each house, support that has so far been elusive.
Mr. Brown, who has railed against budgetary maneuvers that the state
has relied on for years to balance its budget, placed the blame on
Republicans and commended lawmakers from his party for their
“tremendous efforts” to balance the budget, but said that the plan
approved Wednesday was not balanced.
He said the budget contained “legally questionable maneuvers, costly
borrowing and unrealistic savings,” and that it would not meet the
state’s financial obligations.
“A balanced budget is critical to our economic recovery,” he said in
his veto message. “I am, once again, calling on Republicans to allow
the people of California to vote on tax extensions for a balanced
budget and significant reforms.”
He added: “If they continue to obstruct a vote, we will be forced to
pursue deeper and more destructive cuts to schools and public safety —
a tragedy for which Republicans will bear full responsibility.”
While many lawmakers said that they had expected the governor to
continue to negotiate with Republicans, few expected him to veto the
Among the reasons legislators scrambled to pass the stop-gap budget
plan by Wednesday’s deadline was that state law called for them to have
a full day’s pay docked for every day the budget was late. Since they
passed a budget by the deadline, their pay will continue unimpeded,
despite the governor’s veto.
ignored warnings on
By KEVIN FREKING, Associated Press
19 February 2011
WASHINGTON – State officials had plenty of warning. Over the past three
decades, two national commissions and a series of government audits
sounded alarms about the dwindling amount of money states were setting
aside to pay unemployment insurance to laid-off workers.
"Trust Fund Reserves Inadequate," federal auditors said in a 1988
It's clear now the warnings were pretty much ignored. Instead, states
kept whittling away at the trust funds, mostly by cutting unemployment
insurance taxes at the behest of the business community. The low
balances hastened insolvency when the recession hit, leading about 30
states to borrow $41.5 billion from the federal government to pay
unemployment benefits to their growing population of jobless.
The ramifications will be felt for years.
In the short term, states must find the money to pay interest on the
loans. Generally, that involves a special tax on businesses until the
loan is repaid. Some states could tap general revenues, making it
harder to pay for schools, roads and other state services.
In the long term, state will have to their replenish unemployment
insurance programs. That typically leads to higher payroll taxes,
leaving companies with less money to invest.
Past recessions have resulted in insolvencies. Seven states borrowed
money in the early 1990s; eight did so as a result of the 2001
But the numbers are much worse this time because of the recession was
more severe and the funds already were low when it hit, said Wayne
Vroman, an analyst at the Urban Institute, a liberal-leaning think tank
based in Washington.
The Obama administration this month proposed giving states a waiver on
the interest payments due this fall. Down the road, the administration
would raise the amount of wages on which companies pay federal
unemployment taxes. Many states probably would follow suit as a way of
boosting depleted trust funds.
Businesses pay a federal and state payroll tax. The federal tax
primarily covers administrative costs; the state tax pays for the
regular benefits a worker gets when laid off. The Treasury Department
manages the trust funds that hold each state's taxes.
Each state decides whether its unemployment fund has enough money. In
2000, total reserves for states and territories came to about $54
billion. That dropped to $38 billion by the end of 2007, just as the
Over the next two years, reserves plummeted to $11.1 billion, lower
than at any time in the program's history when adjusted for inflation,
the Government Accountability Office said in its most recent report on
the issue. Yet benefits have stayed relatively flat, or declined when
compared with average weekly wages.
"If you look at it from the employers' standpoint, they're not going to
want reserves to build up excessively high because then there's an
increasing risk that advocates for benefit expansion would point to the
high reserves and say, 'We can afford to increase benefits,'" said Rich
Hobbie, executive director of the National Association of State
A review of state unemployment insurance programs shows how states
weakened their trust funds over the past two decades.
In Georgia, lawmakers gave employers a four-year tax holiday from
1999-2003. Employers saved more than $1 billion, but trust fund
reserves fell about 40 percent, to $700 million. The state gradually
has raised its unemployment insurance taxes since then, but not nearly
enough to restore the trust fund to previous levels. The state began
borrowing in December 2009. Now it owes Washington about $588 million.
Republican Mark Butler, Georgia's labor commissioner, said his state
had one of the lowest unemployment insurance tax rates in the nation
when the tax holiday was enacted.
"The decision to do this was not really based upon any practical
reason. It was based on a political decision, which I think, by all
accounts now, we can look back on and say it was the wrong decision,"
Butler said. "Now we find ourselves in a situation where we've had to
borrow money and that puts everyone in a tight situation."
In New Jersey, lawmakers used a combination approach to deplete the
trust fund. The Legislature expanded benefits and cut taxes, as well as
spending $4.7 billion of trust fund revenue to reimburse hospitals for
indigent health care. The money was diverted over a period of about 15
years and helps explain why the state's trust fund dropped from $3.1
billion in 2000 to $35 million by the end of 2010. The state has had to
borrow $1.75 billion from the federal government to keep the program
"It was a real abdication of responsibility and a complete
misunderstanding of how you finance an unemployment insurance fund — to
make sure you have sufficient money in bad economic times," said
Phillip Kirschner, president of the New Jersey Business and Industry
Association. "In good economic times you build up your bank account,
but in New Jersey, they said, 'Well, we have all this money, let's
California took its own road to trust fund insolvency. Lawmakers kept
payroll tax rates the same, but gradually doubled the maximum weekly
benefit paid to laid-off workers to $450. The average benefit now is
about $300 and is paid for about 20 weeks.
Loree Levy, spokeswoman for the California Employment Development
Department, said lawmakers were warned of the consequences.
"We testified at legislative hearings that the fund would eventually go
broke and would become permanently insolvent if legislation wasn't
passed to increase revenue," Levy said.
California has borrowed $9.8 billion to keep unemployment insurance
payments flowing. It owes the federal government an interest payment of
$362 million by the end of September.
In Michigan, unemployment insurance tax rates declined from 1994
through 2001. The trust fund prospered during those years because of
the healthy economy and low unemployment rate. Then the recession
arrived and reserves plunged. In response, Michigan lawmakers passed
legislation that lowered the amount of wages subject to unemployment
taxes from $9,500 to $9,000. They increased the maximum weekly benefit
from $300 to $362. The trust fund dropped from $1.2 billion to $112
million over the next four years. In September 2006, Michigan was the
first state to begin borrowing from the federal government.
Other states held their trust funds purposely low as part of an
approach called "pay-as-you-go." Texas is a nationally recognized
leader of this effort. Its philosophy is that, in the long run, it's
better for the economy to keep the maximum level of dollars in the
hands of businesses rather than government. Texas had to borrow $1.3
billion in 2009. State officials have no regrets about their policy.
"By keeping the minimum in the (trust fund), Texas is able to maximize
funds circulating in the Texas economy, allowing for the creation of
jobs and stimulation of economic growth," said Lisa Givens, spokeswoman
for the Texas Workforce Commission.
The pay-as-you-go approach goes against the findings of a presidential
commission that looked into the issue of dwindling trust funds in the
"It would be in the interest of the nation to begin to restore the
forward-funding nature of the unemployment insurance system, resulting
in a building up of reserves during good economic times and a drawing
down of reserves during recessions," said the Advisory Council on
Unemployment Compensation, which President Bill Clinton appointed.
Hobbie, from the association representing state labor agencies, said
there's no way to tell which approach is better over the long haul. He
acknowledged that keeping reserves at the minimum in good times goes
against one of the original aims of the program — to act as an economic
stabilizer in bad times. That's because businesses are asked to pay
more in taxes, which leaves them less money to invest in their company.
A survey from Hobbies' organization found that 35 states raised their
state unemployment taxes last year.
Hobbie said he suspects that some states allowed reserves to dwindle
out of complacency.
"I think we just got overconfident and thought we wouldn't experience
the bad recessions we had in, say the mid '70s, and then this big
surprise hit," he said.
PUBLIC EMPLOYEES USED TO
NOT BE ALLOWED TO GO ON STRIKE (IN MY LIFETIME)
Cause and effect: At one end of the spectrum of union rights, we
offer the Yale&Towne striker...nothing like the early days of
Collective Bargaining Law Upheld in Wisconsin
By MONICA DAVEY
June 14, 2011
The Wisconsin Supreme Court cleared the way on Tuesday for significant
cuts to collective bargaining rights for public workers in the state,
undoing a lower court’s decision that Wisconsin’s controversial law had
been passed improperly.
The Supreme Court’s ruling, issued at the close of the business day,
spared lawmakers in the Republican-dominated Capitol from having to do
what some of them strongly hoped to avoid: calling for a new vote on
the polarizing collective bargaining measure, which had drawn tens of
thousands of protesters to Madison this year and led Democratic
lawmakers to flee the city in an effort to block the bill.
Republican leaders had warned on Monday that if the Supreme Court did
not rule by Tuesday, they would feel compelled to attach the same
measure to the state’s budget bill, which is expected to be approved
The decision ended, at least for now, lingering questions about when
and whether the cuts would take effect, but it also underscored the
state’s partisan divide, which seems to grow wider by the day. The
ruling was 4 to 3, split along what many viewed as the court’s
predictable conservative-liberal line.
The majority of the justices concluded that a lower court was wrong
when it found that the Legislature had forced through the cuts in
collective bargaining without giving sufficient notice — 24 hours —
under the state’s open-meetings requirements.
In its written decision, the court cited the importance of the
separation of powers, and said the Legislature had not violated the
state’s Constitution when it relied on its “interpretation of its own
rules of proceeding” and gave slightly less than two hours’ notice
before meeting and voting. In the end, the provision passed without the
attendance of any of the Senate’s 14 Democrats.
Justice David T. Prosser, whose re-election bid was threatened this
year because he was seen as a conservative who would cast the deciding
vote on the collective bargaining measure if it came before the court,
voted to overturn the lower court ruling. He issued his own opinion
concurring with the majority.
Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson, who is viewed by many as leading
the court’s liberal wing, wrote a scathing opinion that accused the
majority of a “hasty judgment.”
“It is long on rhetoric and long on storytelling that appears to have a
partisan slant,” Chief Justice Abrahamson wrote of Justice Prosser’s
Republicans, who won control of both legislative chambers and the
governor’s office in last November’s elections, praised the ruling, and
said they could now move forward with what some of them describe as a
fiscally wise budget.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling provides our state the opportunity to move
forward together and focus on getting Wisconsin working again,” Gov.
Scott Walker said.
Democrats said the court’s decision was unsurprising given a battle
that had turned so fierce. Protests, again, were mounting at the
Capitol. Democratic leaders said they planned to remind voters of the
collective bargaining bill in the weeks before Senate recall elections
that grew out of the fight.
“I guarantee you, some Republicans are breathing a sigh of relief about
not having to take this up again,” said Senator Christopher Larson, a
Democrat. “On the other hand, these justices just sent a reminder to
voters of what has happened here.”
Wis. Assembly reaches deal to
end debate, vote
By TODD RICHMOND and SCOTT BAUER
Feb 24, 8:57 AM EST
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Wisconsin Democrats in the state Assembly agreed
to a deal in the pre-dawn hours Thursday to limit debate and reach a
vote, perhaps by midday, on a bill taking away public workers'
collective bargaining rights. Republican leadership in the Senate
meanwhile dispatched police officers to the homes of some of the 14
Democratic lawmakers who have been on the run for a week to avoid
voting on the proposal, to compel them to return.
The early morning action Thursday was designed to force a vote on
Republican Gov. Scott Walker's bill that has made Wisconsin the focus
of a multiple state effort to curb union rights. The Assembly deal
announced shortly after 6 a.m. followed more than 42 hours of debate
that began Tuesday morning.
"We will strongly make our points, but understand you are limiting the
voice of the public as you do this," said Democratic state Rep. Mark
Pocan of Madison. "You can't dictate democracy. You are limiting the
people's voice with this agreement this morning."
The Senate convened at 7 a.m. for long enough to make a call of the
house, which allows for the sergeant at arms staff to go to the homes
of missing lawmakers with police. The lawmakers can't be arrested, but
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he hoped it
would pressure them to return. He would not say how many Democrats were
being targeted, but he said it was more than one.
"Every night we hear about some that are coming back home," Fitzgerald
Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach, who is in the Chicago area, said all 14
senators remain outside of Wisconsin and would not return until Walker
is willing to compromise.
"It's not so much the Democrats holding things up, it's really a matter
of Gov. Walker holding things up," Erpenbach said.
Tens of thousands of people have protested the bill for nine straight
days, with hundreds spending the night in sleeping bags on the hard
marble floor of the Capitol as the debate was broadcast on monitors in
the rotunda. Many of them were still sleeping when the deal to only
debate 38 more amendments, for no more than 10 minutes each, was
announced. The timing of the agreement means the vote could come as
soon as noon Thursday.
Democrats, who are in the minority, don't have the votes to stop the
bill once the vote occurs.
Passage of the bill in the Assembly would be a major victory for
Republicans and Walker, but the measure must still clear the Senate.
Democrats there left town last week rather than vote on the bill, which
has stymied any efforts there to take it up.
The battle over labor rights has been heating up across the country, as
new Republican majorities tackle budget woes in several states. The GOP
efforts have sparked huge protests from unions and their supporters and
led Democrats in Wisconsin and Indiana to flee their states to block
Republicans in Ohio offered a small concession on Wednesday, saying
they would support allowing unionized state workers to collectively
bargain on wages - but not for benefits, sick time, vacation or other
conditions. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's proposal also would allow
most public workers to collectively bargain only for wages.
In Ohio, Republican Senate President Tom Niehaus denied protests have
dented the GOP's resolve, saying lawmakers decided to make the change
after listening to hours of testimony. He said he still believes the
bill's core purpose - reining in spending by allowing governments more
flexibility in dealing with their workers - is intact.
Senate Democratic Leader Capri Cafaro called the changes "window
dressing." She said the entire bill should be scrapped.
"We can't grow Ohio's economy by destroying jobs and attacking the
middle class," Cafaro said. "Public employees in Ohio didn't cause our
budget problems and they shouldn't be blamed for something that's not
Wisconsin Democrats have echoed Cafaro for days, but Walker has refused
Walker reiterated Wednesday that public workers must make concessions
to avoid thousands of government layoffs as the state grapples with a
$137 million shortfall in its current budget and a projected $3.6
billion hole in the next two-year budget.
The marathon session in the Assembly was grand political theater, with
exhausted lawmakers limping around the chamber, rubbing their eyes and
yawning as Wednesday night dragged on.
Around midnight, Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, accused Democrats of
putting on a show for the protesters. Democrats leapt up and started
"I'm sorry if democracy is a little inconvenient and you had to stay up
two nights in a row," Pocan said. "Is this inconvenient? Hell, yeah!
It's inconvenient. But we're going to be heard!"
The Ohio and Wisconsin bills both would strip public workers at all
levels of their right to collectively bargain benefits, sick time,
vacations and other work conditions. Wisconsin's measure exempts local
police, firefighters and the State Patrol and still lets workers
collectively bargain their wages as long as they are below inflation.
It also would require public workers to pay more toward their pensions
and health insurance. Ohio's bill, until Wednesday, would have barred
negotiations on wages.
Ohio's measure sits in a Senate committee. No vote has been scheduled
on the plan, but thousands of protesters have gathered at the
Statehouse to demonstrate, just as in Wisconsin.
In Indiana, Democrats successfully killed a Republican bill that would
have prohibited union membership from being a condition of employment
by leaving the state on Tuesday. They remained in Illinois in hopes of
derailing other parts of Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels' agenda,
including restrictions on teacher collective bargaining.
And in Oklahoma, a Republican-controlled state House committee on
Wednesday narrowly approved legislation to repeal collective bargaining
rights for municipal workers in that state's 13 largest cities.
Associated Press writers Ryan J.
Foley in Madison and Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to
© 2011 The Associated Press. All
rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast,
Madison Madness: The unions are in an
uproar in Wisconsin, but taxpayers just won’t stand for it anymore.
February 18, 2011 3:15 P.M.
The Democratic/government-union days of rage in Madison, Wis., are a
disgrace. Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan calls it Cairo coming to
Madison. But the protesters in Egypt were pro-democracy. The
government-union protesters in Madison are anti-democracy; they are
trying to prevent a vote in the legislature. In fact, Democratic
legislators themselves are fleeing the state so as not to vote on Gov.
Scott Walker’s budget cuts.
That’s not democracy.
The teachers’ union is going on strike in Milwaukee and elsewhere. They
ought to be fired. Think Ronald Reagan PATCO in 1981. Think Calvin
Coolidge police strike in 1919.
The teachers’ union on strike? Wisconsin parents should go on strike
against the teachers’ union. A friend e-mailed me to say that the
graduation rate in Milwaukee public schools is 46 percent. The
graduation rate for African-Americans in Milwaukee public schools is 34
percent. Shouldn’t somebody be protesting that?
Governor Walker is facing a $3.6 billion budget deficit, and he wants
state workers to pay one-half of their pension costs and 12.6 percent
of their health benefits. Currently, most state employees pay nothing
for their pensions and virtually nothing for their health insurance.
That’s an outrage.
Nationwide, state and local government unions have a 45 percent
total-compensation advantage over their private-sector counterpart.
With high-pay compensation and virtually no benefits co-pay, the
politically arrogant unions are bankrupting America — which by some
estimates is suffering from $3 trillion in unfunded liabilities.
Exempting police, fire, and state troopers, Governor Walker would end
collective bargaining over pensions and benefits for the rest.
Collective bargaining for wages would still be permitted, but there
would be no wage hikes above the CPI. Unions could still represent
workers, but they could not force employees to pay dues. In exchange
for this, Walker promises no furloughs for layoffs.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is also pushing a bill to limit the
collective-bargaining rights of teachers for wages and wage-related
benefits. Similar proposals are being discussed in Idaho and Tennessee.
In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich wants to restrict union rights
across-the-board for all state and local government workers. More
generally, both Democratic and Republican governors across the country
are taking on the extravagant pay of government unions.
Why? Because taxpayers won’t stand for it anymore.
In an interesting twist on this story, even private unions are
revolting against government unions. Private unions pay taxes, too. And
they don’t have near the total compensation of the public unions. It’s
no wonder they’re fed up.
So, having lost badly in the last election, the government-union
Democrats in Wisconsin have taken to the streets. This is a
European-style revolt, like those seen in Greece, France, and
elsewhere. So it becomes greater than just a fiscal issue. It is
becoming a law-and-order issue.
President Obama, who keeps telling us he’s a budget cutter, has taken
the side of the public unions. John Boehner correctly rapped Obama’s
knuckles for this. If the state of Wisconsin voters elected a Chris
Christie-type governor with a Republican legislature, then it is a
local states’ rights issue.
But does President Obama even know that the scope of collective
bargaining for federal employees is sharply limited? According to the
Manhattan Institute, federal workers are forbidden to collectively
bargain for wages or benefits. Instead, pay increases are determined
annually through legislation.
Meanwhile, Gov. Scott Walker said it would be “wise” for President
Obama to keep his attentions on Washington, not Wisconsin. “We’re
focused on balancing our budget,” he said in a television interview.
“It would be wise for the president and others in Washington to be
focused on balancing their budget, which they’re a long ways from
Obama should stay out. And Governor Walker should stand tall and stick
to his principles. A nationwide taxpayer revolt against public unions
can save the country. Otherwise, the spiraling out-of-control costs of
state public-union entitlements will destroy the local fisc, just as
surely as the unreformed federal entitlements of Social Security and
health care are wrecking our national finances.
A Watershed Moment for
By STEVEN GREENHOUSE
February 18, 2011
In the half century since Wisconsin became the first state to give its
public workers the right to bargain collectively, government employee
unions have mushroomed in size and power — so much so that they now
account for more than half of the nation’s union members.
But the legislative push by Wisconsin’s new governor, Scott Walker, a
Republican, to slash the collective bargaining rights of his state’s
public employees could prove a watershed for public-sector unions,
perhaps signaling the beginning of a decline in their power — both at
the bargaining table and in politics.
Three-fourths of the states allow collective bargaining by some or all
of state or local government employees. And labor’s friends and foes
alike agree that if the Wisconsin legislation passes, it will create
momentum for similar bills in Ohio, Indiana and other states.
“These kinds of high-profile public-employee battles have enormous
stakes,” said Benjamin Sachs, a professor of labor law at Harvard.
“We’re still feeling the consequences of President Reagan confronting
the union in the air controllers’ strike. For anyone interested in
union rights, the fight in Wisconsin couldn’t be more important.”
From Florida to California, many political leaders are seeking to cut
the wages and benefits of public-sector workers to help balance
But Mr. Walker is going far beyond that, seeking to definitively curb
the power of government unions in his state. He sees public-employee
unions as a bane to the taxpayer because they demand — and often win —
generous health and pension plans that help push up taxes and drive
budget deficits higher.
To end that cycle, he wants to restrict the unions to bargaining over
just one topic, base wages, while eliminating their ability to deal
over health care, working hours and vacations. Moreover, he wants to
require unions to win an employee election every year to continue
By flooding the State Capitol in Madison with more than 10,000
protesters, labor unions are doing their utmost to block Mr. Walker’s
plans. They helped persuade Democratic state senators to slip out of
the building this week to deny Republicans the quorum they needed to
pass the legislation.
Democrats say the governor’s “budget repair bill” — strongly supported
by the Republicans who control both legislative houses — is political
payback, intended to cripple public-sector unions, which spent more
than $200 million to back Democrats across the country in November’s
Mr. Walker denies any such notion, saying he simply wants to curb union
bargaining rights and bring public workers’ wages and benefits in line
with the private sector. “It’s not about the unions,” he said this
week. “It’s about balancing the budget.”
Christopher Policano, a spokesman for the American Federation of State,
County and Municipal Employees, said his union was willing to negotiate
concessions with Mr. Walker, “but he wants to throw out the bargaining
Mr. Walker has repeatedly argued that most Wisconsin residents back his
legislation. After visiting a factory this week, he said that
private-sector workers often complain that public employees receive
more generous health and pension benefits than they do.
There is no question that public-sector unions and the thousands of
contracts they have negotiated over the years have improved wages and
pensions of government workers and made government service more
attractive. But union leaders are quick to point to studies showing
that overall compensation for government employees is slightly lower
than for private-sector employees of comparable age and education.
Also embedded in the Wisconsin debate — and reaching well beyond that
state — is a more fundamental dispute over the role, even the
legitimacy, of public-sector unions. Like Mr. Walker, Ohio’s new
governor, John Kasich, and Indiana’s second-term governor, Mitch
Daniels, both Republicans, see public-sector bargaining as something to
be banned or severely restricted because of its effect on taxpayers and
Some Republicans quote President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat, who
bridled at public-sector unionism and once said, “The process of
collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted in
the public service.”
Republicans say the Democrats have embraced the government employees’
cause because weaker unions would reduce crucial political support for
Democratic candidates. Republicans have often denounced what they say
is a squalid deal in which public-sector unions spend generously to
elect allies to office and then those allies lavish generous wages and
benefits on union members.
Ever since Wisconsin gave its government employees the right to bargain
in 1959, it has generally been Democrats who have extended that right
in other states. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy gave most federal
employees the right to unionize and bargain collectively.
The national importance of the Wisconsin fight is clear. President
Obama weighed in on labor’s behalf on Wednesday, calling Mr. Walker’s
proposals “an assault on unions.” And the House speaker, John A.
Boehner, Republican of Ohio, praised Mr. Walker for “confronting
problems that have been neglected for years at the expense of jobs and
Citing an anticipated budget deficit of $137 million this year and a
$3.6 billion shortfall over the next two years, Mr. Walker argues that
his measures to curb union power and bargaining are essential to help
balance the budget. Union leaders say that several of Mr. Walker’s
proposals — including the one that would require elections each year to
determine whether a majority of public employees want to keep their
union — are really intended to cripple unions, not balance the budget.
Other governors, Democrat and Republican, are also grappling with
budget deficits. But many of those governors, like Jerry Brown of
California and Andrew M. Cuomo in New York, both Democrats, and Rick
Snyder of Michigan, a Republican, are not trying to strip bargaining
rights. They are instead using public pressure and the threat of
layoffs to persuade public-sector unions to make far-reaching
“Wisconsin has become ground zero for the process of pushing back
against unions,” said Steve Meyer, a professor of labor history at the
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “People are waiting to see what
happens here. That’s why the labor movement has become so deeply
involved trying to stop this process.”
As happens so often in today’s increasingly partisan politics, the
battle reflects how differently Republicans and Democrats view a
particular subject — in this case, unions and their power. Many
Republicans see public-sector unions as greedy, powerful special
interests that are taking too many taxpayer dollars. Many Democrats see
them as natural allies and a vital part of a labor movement that has
helped build the nation’s middle class.
The furious demonstrators in Madison have shown that public-sector
unions still wield real power. But if the Legislature enacts Mr.
Walker’s bill, a tipping point might well be reached, with the power of
public-sector unions tilting into decline.