Our inessential Legislature, and unions sound nervous
The Chris Powell Column
How laughable that state legislators from both parties are starting to express annoyance with Governor Lamont — some about the pace of reopening commerce amid the virus epidemic, others about financial issues.
For the governor did not adjourn the General Assembly when he declared an emergency amid the epidemic and claimed the special powers allowed to him by state law.
No, the Legislature adjourned and scattered itself and has remained adjourned even as all sorts of “essential” workers remain on the job enduring close contact with others, from nursing home aides to supermarket employees to postal carriers.
If those workers can stay on the job, legislators should be able to do the same. Otherwise legislators proclaim themselves inessential.
In the unprecedented circumstances of the epidemic the governor will never be able to please everyone in his pursuit of public safety, and everyone remains free to complain about his executive orders. But unlike ordinary citizens, legislators are free not only to complain about government policy but also to do something about it. Legislation could restrict the governor’s powers, undo his orders, and begin to cover the huge state budget deficit caused by the epidemic.
As long as they fail to reconvene, legislators who complain about the governor will only be posturing, not working.
Meanwhile, Local 2001 of the Service Employees International Union, a state employee union, is preparing a publicity campaign to counter criticism that Connecticut’s state employee pension system is too expensive, unaffordable amid the huge costs of the epidemic.
According to the union, the expense of the pension system is not even a fair issue. In a message to members seeking volunteers to write letters for publication in newspapers, the union says: “When you open up the paper all you see is a coordinated effort to distort the truth.”
That’s union-speak for people who dare to disagree with the union. They must be dishonest.
The SEIU message continues: “Are you willing to be involved in the upcoming elections? The state representatives and senators running locally are the ones who make decisions about your health care and pensions. Let’s be a part of electing the right people, but we can do that only if you get involved.”
Of course government employee union members have the same political rights as everyone else. But unlike everyone else, the unions use those rights nearly every day. They have lobbyists at the state Capitol and, as the SEIU notice suggests, their members staff most legislative campaigns for candidates nominated by the majority party. Their success rate in elections long has been high, for, as the journalist James Reston wrote long ago, the first rule of politics is the indifference of the majority.
So is the SEIU really worried that the damage to state government’s finances may be great enough to threaten union control of the Legislature and the governor’s office?
Does the union really suspect that to restore state government’s finances the governor might try to exact from the government class a sacrifice resembling the sacrifice the epidemic has exacted from the private sector?
Does the union really fear that the governor might feel bad that the incomes of government employees have been completely protected during the epidemic while tens of thousands of private-sector workers have lost their jobs and may face higher taxes anyway?
Could the majority in Connecticut actually be induced to care about this disparity and prove Reston wrong for once?
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.