And so it begins…

Cross-posted on Pelto’s Point (New Haven Advocate)

When Governor Malloy submitted his Connecticut State Budget proposal in February it included $1 billion dollars in employee concessions for FY 12 and another billion for FY 13.

Those who appreciate the realities of how Connecticut’s budget works recognized immediately that such a figure was not achievable.   There was simply no way that $1 billion dollars in employee savings could be achieved in one fiscal year.

Malloy Walks the Picket Line

The question was and remains today – why would the Governor propose a budget that he knew was destined to be as much as $500 million or more out of balance?

Sadly, the clues were immediate.

At the time, Malloy said that “if” the concessions were not forthcoming, but he was confident that they would be achieved, he would be forced to lay off thousands and shred the State’s safety net.  He was very clear.  The blame for this catastrophe would rest solely on the heads of Connecticut’s state employees.

And now the next phase in this drama has begun…

On Friday, the CT Mirror ran a story entitled “Municipal aid is at stake in Malloy’s talks with labor

The story leads with a quote from Malloy’s top advisor Roy Occhiogrosso, who said “All the assumptions will have to be re-examined, because he is committed to producing a balanced budget with no gimmicks, and if the savings don’t materialize there are only so many places to go for money…Municipal aid is one of those places.”

Faced with the inevitable failure to pull $1 billion dollars out of Connecticut’s state employees, the Malloy administration is now ramping up their rhetoric. 

As a result of their inability to produce $1 billion in concessions, state employees will now not only be responsible for putting many of Connecticut’s most vulnerable citizens at risk, but we are now learning that aid to cities and towns will be cut and the corresponding local property taxes increases that will be needed will be another tribute the state employees’s failure to produce the appropriate savings.

Yet the Malloy Administration has never admitted that the number they are demanding from Connecticut’s state employees is “almost double what New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo obtained from his much larger work force.”

And even worse, although the Malloy Administration says it has a detailed concession plan that amounts to $1 billion dollars they refuse to make their “secret plan” public.

Although rank and file state employees seem almost unanimously committed to doing their fair share to balance Connecticut’s budget, few – if any – understand the extent to which they have been set up to fail.

This is a dark time for Connecticut’s state employees and it will get darker in the coming days as the Malloy Administration announces with ‘”surprise” that the $1 billion dollars in concessions cannot be achieved.

I’m sorry, what was that about excessive state employee salaries?

Courtesy CTMirror

Cross-posted on Pelto’s Point (New Haven Advocate)

FACT #1:     Ben Barnes, Malloy’s new Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management receives a salary of $187,000 a year.  Ben, one of the brightest guys you will ever meet, has 7 years of experience as a government employee.  Ben also holds a master’s degree.

FACT #2:     Robert Genuario, who served as OPM Secretary for 5 years under Jodi Rell left last year with a salary of $163,910.08.  He had 29 years of experience in government, 19 of which were at the state level.  In addition to his 5 years at OPM, he served for 14 years as a State Senator, for 8 of which he as the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee.  Bob holds a law degree.

So Ben, with only 37% of the experience Bob had – and a Master’s Degree rather than a Juris doctorate – is being paid $23,000 more.

As Governor Malloy demands unprecedented state employee givebacks that could equal 20% or more of the value of their salary he might want to think about the message he is sending by complaining about the high cost of state employees.

What is that line about people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

A Glowing Endorsement for Malloy’s Budget.

Cross-posted on Pelto’s Point (New Haven Advocate)

A Glowing Endorsement for Malloy’s Budget.

“Virtually every constituency, interest group and bargaining coalition in the state has some gripe with Gov. Malloy’s proposed budget — which is exactly why we, and in particular our elected representatives, should support it.”

David Crandall, the President and CEO of New Britain’s Hospital for Special Care, Hartford Courant Commentary March 25, 2011.

At a time when there are very few, if any, who are praising the Governor’s budget, a full-fledged endorsement like Crandall’s is hard to come by. 

What makes the commentary piece even more interesting is that as President and CEO of a major Connecticut hospital, he is well aware of how damaging the Governor’s proposed budget is to the state’s hospitals.

Adding to the intrigue is fact that the Crandall’s piece reads more like a set of Malloy’s PR talking points than anything else; 

Crandall says

“The governor’s proposed budget…tackles head-on the tough issues which vexed his predecessors.”

“…[Malloy] offers solutions in the one area that will sustain our state for decades to come”

“The governor’s budget also reflects his pedigree as the consummate Hartford outsider.”

And finally, rather than address the impact the Governor’s budget would have on the quality and availability of hospital care, which would make sense since that is Crandall’s expertise, he spends a significant amount of his editorial praising Malloy’s push to reorganize public higher education.

One has to wonder just what is going on behind the scenes.

Crandall and the Hospital of Special Care is one of the more sophisticated operators when it comes to government relations.  According to the Office of State Ethics they spent over $873,000 on lobbying state government in the last two years alone including more than $135,000 paid to Joe Harper, who served New Britain’s State Senator for many years and ran the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee with an iron fist.  (By comparison, Gaylord Hospital spent $46,000 on lobbying).  In addition to retaining one of the best government relations firms in the state, Crandall and the Hospital for Special Care hired an additional lobby firm earlier this month, a new company formed by Adam Salina, the Mayor of Berlin and a rising star in Connecticut politics.  Salina was also a plum spot on Malloy’s transition committee, reviewing incoming resumes). 

An early endorsement by Salina and key Democrats in New Britain in February 2010 is credited with helping to derail Ned Lamont’s march for the Democratic nomination.  The New Britain political establishment had not supported Malloy in his 2006 gubernatorial campaign so when they switched to him this time, it had a big impact.

And to the victor goes the spoils.  New Britain’s state senator at the time is now the Commissioner of the State Department of Administrative Services and one of their State Representatives is the new Connecticut State Auditor.  New Britain’s other legislators have risen to new heights as well.

Considering the political environment, it’s not surprising that the Malloy Administration has been searching for people to stand up and endorse his budget plan.  What is interesting is how a hospital President and CEO has suddenly become one of the Governor’s most outspoken cheer-leaders.

The connection to the higher education re-organization is also intriguing.  The Joe Harper who Crandall paid so well for his government relations services has long been a proponent of re-organizing higher education.  On the other hand, Crandall is one of the newest members of the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors, which is home-base for Larry McHugh.  McHugh is not only the Chamber’s President but he previously served as the Chairman of the CSU Board of Trustees and now serves as Chairman of the UConn Board of Trustees, a position he certainly wants to hold on to.  McHugh is certainly extraordinarily appreciative that Malloy exempted UConn from his massive public higher education reorganization plans.   

All in all, it is interesting timing. 

And as the proverb goes, “may you live in interesting times.”

Crandall’s piece in the Courant can be found here:  Crandall on Malloy’s Budget

Background Note: As of 2009 Crandall was making $793,000 a year from Hospital for Special Care and its related companies.

Malloy Threatens Public Employees – Happy Friday!

Cross-posted on Pelto’s Point (New Haven Advocate)

“Nasty and Ugly” –  The latest word from Governor Malloy.

According to veteran reporter Ken Dixon of the Connecticut Post, Governor Malloy said today that state employees are running out of time.

Malloy apparently said that the unions have about a month before he will to come up with $2 billion dollars in concessions or he’ll order thousands of layoffs and other cuts.  In the past Malloy has said that failure to come up with the concessions will mean he will be forced to shred Connecticut’s “safety-net”.  In essence the suffering of tens of thousands of Connecticut’s most vulnerable citizens will be due to Connecticut’s state employees – not the huge budget deficit, not his unwillingness to make the wealthy pay their fair share…but actually due to state employees.

Malloy is quoted as saying the impact of his actions “would be nasty and ugly.”

So what happened to all the talk of working together?

The Governor Office says that they have a detailed plan that achieves $2 billion in employee concessions but they won’t share it.

Yet even without releasing his “secret plan”, both sides have been saying (as late as yesterday) that productive discussions are moving forward.

And Malloy decides to use this moment to threaten the state employees.

Wow, what happened to our state’s bullying laws?

Dixon’s story can be found here:  Malloy on concessions

Additional information on Malloy’s comments can be found on CTNewsjunkie  Malloy and Unions and CTMirror Malloy

Malloy Threatens Public Employees – Happy Friday!

Cross-posted on Pelto’s Point (New Haven Advocate)

“Nasty and Ugly” –  The latest word from Governor Malloy.

According to veteran reporter Ken Dixon of the Connecticut Post, Governor Malloy said today that state employees are running out of time.

Malloy apparently said that the unions have about a month before he will to come up with $2 billion dollars in concessions or he’ll order thousands of layoffs and other cuts.  In the past Malloy has said that failure to come up with the concessions will mean he will be forced to shred Connecticut’s “safety-net”.  In essence the suffering of tens of thousands of Connecticut’s most vulnerable citizens will be due to Connecticut’s state employees.

Malloy is quoted as saying the impact of his actions “would be nasty and ugly.”

So what happened to all the talk of working together? 

The Governor refuses to put forward a detailed plan about his goal of getting $2 billion in employee concessions. 

Yet even without releasing his “secret plan”, both sides have been saying (as late as yesterday) that productive discussions are moving forward.

And Malloy decides to use this moment to threaten the state employees.

Wow, what happened to our state’s bullying laws? 

Dixon’s story can be found here:  Malloy on concessions

Governor, enough! Just tell your people to grow up.

Cross-posted from Pelto’s Point (New Haven Advocate)

Arrogance and bullying is not an appropriate leadership style.

Today’s blog post was supposed to be about some additional policy issues facing the Legislature but after reading the latest CTnewsjunkie story, we must unfortunately return to the issue of how the Malloy administration is dealing with state employees, with criticism of their policies and with the responsibilities associated with governing.

According to the news story, Correction Workers To Fight Concessions, when AFCME Local 391, the union that represents Connecticut’s 5,000 correction workers recently held an executive board meeting, there was a consensus that the members would not support the Malloy Administration’s demand for $1 billion in employee concessions.  The minutes read “The members have spoken and we have heard them loud and clear: No!”

In response, Roy Occhiogrosso, Governor Malloy’s closest advisor, once again, came out firing.  He blasted the correctional guards saying “it’s disappointing to see that kind of rhetoric at the same time we’re being told the unions are negotiating in good faith.”

In response the spokesperson for Connecticut’s state employees pointed out that the Local’s minutes simply reflect the employee’s upset and that “Those concerns and frustrations are legitimate, and a product of years of disregard and disrespect from previous administrations.”

The spokesperson reiterated that the state employee unions remain committed to “the good faith discussions SEBAC is having with the Malloy administration” but he reminded Occhiogrosso that “we are a democratic union…Our members have a right to speak their mind.”

While talking of shared sacrifice and the need to have a “grown up” discussion about the difficult choices facing the state, this Administration seems more interested in belittling those who voice reasonable concerns or have understandable disagreements with their policy proposals.

Three months into their tenure and the Malloy Administration continues to appear unable or unwilling to get out of “campaign mode”.  Dismissive and flip rhetoric may work in the heat of campaigns but it is very much out-of-place in the here and now.

For example, the Governor is fond of saying things like: “The smartest thing the legislature can do is pass this [budget] as quickly as possible and then blame me.” Or: “If I were them, I’d pass it as it is … I think what this does is take the pressure off of them to make the tough decisions.”

Cute phrases to be sure but hardly an appropriate thing to say to the 187 state legislators who have the moral, ethical and Constitutional responsibility to represent their constituents in Hartford.

Meanwhile, the Malloy Administration remains unwilling to share some of the most critical details about their budget plans.

Last week we learned that they do have a “detailed plan” to achieve the unachievable – $2 billion in concessions from the state employees – but that they won’t reveal that plan.

The largest single element of the budget and they don’ t feel the need to share any of the details with the public, the legislators or the media so that people have a chance to understand what is being proposed and how it might impact our state?

Sharing information and allowing debate is not a by-product of a functioning democracy, it is the fundamental requirement that produces a successful democracy.

No one has a monopoly on good ideas.  Pushing back on some of the Governor’s proposals does not mean that we don’t care about Connecticut’s future.  In fact, it is exactly the opposite.

These are difficult times. Hard choices must be made.

To succeed, our elected officials must be committed to promoting respect, understanding, dialogue and debate and this Administration would do well to start acting like the leaders they can and must be if we are to have a chance to overcome the challenges that face our state.

The Missing Memo from the boss to his employees – AKA Gov. Malloy’s letter to state employees

Cross-posted at Pelto’s Point (New Haven Advocate)

A lot of state employees have been whining and crying that their boss, Governor Malloy hasn’t touched base since he wrote that nice email the first day he took office back in January.

Apparently the complaint is they are frustrated and scared because the Malloy Administration hasn’t provided any information about how the proposed $2 billion cut to state employee salaries and benefits will be achieved.

Personally, I don’t know what all the yelping is about.  It’s not like it’s the boss’ job to hold every employee’s hand every time things get a little tough. 

The fact is, as Malloy’s chief advisor said just the other day in the Stamford Advocate “There is a road map to get there…the $2 billion is realistic”.

It’s not like the new Administration doesn’t want to make the “road map” public, they can’t say more because the Administration and the state employee union leadership have agreed not to negotiate through the media. 

Think back, the whole reason the Secret Plan to Bomb Cambodia during the Vietnam War was secret.  If we told the enemy that we were going to bomb them then it wouldn’t be a secret would it?

I mean face it, that’s just the way things work.  Did you expect us to tell Moammar Gadhafi the other day that we were going to fire off 120 ($1 million a piece) tomahawk missiles in the first few hours of our effort to bring him down?   Of course not!

So the state employees and their families are a bit out of line demanding some memo or letter from Malloy laying out his plan for concessions.

That said, considering some of my best friends are state employees and I do feel their pain, I’m going to provide them with a version of the note that they would have received had the Governor been able to take the time to write it himself.

It might go something like this…

State Capitol, Hartford

 To:  Connecticut’s State Employees

From:  [this is where it would say Governor Dannel Malloy]

First let me take this opportunity to wish you a Happy Monday and I know I speak for many in our great state when I tell you that I appreciate the fact that you get up and go to work.

I know some of you are angry that I haven’t written but you need to understand that I am very busy.

 I am the Governor and I inherited this terrible budget deficit.  The 49% of Connecticut who elected me, including most of you, did so because you knew I had the courage and conviction to make the tough choices.  If you didn’t want a governor like that, well, you shouldn’t have voted for me.

Now I want to be clear.  My budget is the best option out there.  Deviating from my plan in any way will only makes things worse.  We need to get this done and we don’t have the luxury of having some protracted debate about getting the rich to pay their fair share.  This is the budget and the legislature needs to pass it as is and go home and blame any bad news on me. Continue reading “The Missing Memo from the boss to his employees – AKA Gov. Malloy’s letter to state employees”

The Silence is Deafening – The $1 billion dollar secret.

Cross-posted at Pelto’s Point (New Haven Advocate)

More than a month ago Governor Dan Malloy released his proposed Connecticut State Budget.  His plan included $1.5 billion in new taxes, $400 million or so in cuts and $1 billion in state employee concessions.

A month later, the Administration has yet to identify any details about how $1 billion in employee concessions in each of the next two years can be achieved.

They may claim that the final concession package is a product of negotiations between the Governor and the state employee unions – and it is – but as chief executive officer, the burden is on Governor Malloy to lay out a proposed list of employee concessions that would amount to $1 billion.

How else is the public (and for that matter the legislature) supposed to have any ability to judge whether those changes would be better or worse for the state and its citizens than cutting more elsewhere in the budget or raising additional taxes.

We know a lot about Malloy’s $1.5 billion tax plan.  It places an undue burden on the middle class while giving Connecticut’s wealthiest citizens a pass at having to pay their fair share.

We know a lot about Malloy’s $400 million in cuts.   Municipal aid is spared (in fact overall support for cities and towns goes up) while focusing the deepest cuts for Connecticut’s colleges and universities.

In those two areas the public at least has some basic information about who will pay more and who will lose more.

But when it comes to the $1 billion in state employee concessions absolutely no information has been put forward.

An analysis from the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis came up with a possible list of concessions that raised more questions than answers and didn’t remotely add up to $1 billion, in fact their list, which was fairly exhaustive could only identify $300 million in possible savings.

Interestingly, despite the hundreds of news articles and stories about Malloy’s budget, not a single reporter has pushed the administration to explain how they propose to take $1 billion out of the state employee salaries and benefits.

I’ve written in this blog that the $1 billion figure can’t be achieved and that the Malloy Administration not only knows this but is using the $1 billion figure as a gimmick to postpone discussions about further cuts or revenue increases that will be needed.   The Malloy Administration (backed by newspaper editorials) claims that the proposed budget is honest and balanced.

It is not.

It is more than a half a billion dollars out of balance but that figure and the Administration’s strategy will remain hidden until they are forced to lay out the facts about the $1 billion concession figure – a responsibility that they have so far successfully sidestepped.

It is time for Connecticut’s chief executive to reveal how $1 billion can be achieved.

Since the administration has failed to do this, the burden falls on Connecticut’s reporters to make them do it.

And the rich get richer…

Cross-posted from Pelto’s Point (New Haven Advocate)

File this one under “What were they thinking?” or perhaps “If they have no bread, let them eat cake”

When Governor Malloy announced his proposed state budget, he made a point to highlight his commitment to helping Connecticut’s cities and towns.  As a former mayor himself, he said he was committed to not balancing Connecticut’s budget on the backs of our state’s cities and towns.

His commitment was widely praised since policy makers are keenly aware that cutting state aid leads to higher local property taxes.

But when the speeches and press conferences were over and people had chance to carefully review Malloy’s municipal aid plan – an interesting, even bizarre fact became apparent.

In Northeastern Connecticut, Windham, one of state’s poorest towns, with a population of about 24,000 and where nearly 1 in 5 residents are living below the poverty line would get a total increase in revenue of $62,650 under Malloy’s plan.

While down in Southwestern Connecticut, Westport, one of the state’s wealthiest towns, with a population of about 26,000 and only 2% of its residents living below the poverty line would enjoy a revenue increase of $2,075,370

Two towns with virtually the same population but at completely different ends of the economic spectrum and the wealthier of the two town would get more than $2 million in new revenue while the poorer town received virtually nothing.  All occurring while Connecticut’s taxpayers were being hit with the largest tax increase in state history (and the middle class bearing the disproportionate amount of the burden).

Continue reading “And the rich get richer…”

Now wait just a minute…

Really, Now wait just a minute…

The Hartford Courant is reporting on a Quinnipiac Opinion Poll that reports that Americans Believe Public Employees Should Pay More For Benefits.

The Courant story goes on to caution that although these are national results and not specific to Connecticut it would appear to be “good news” for Governor Malloy who is pushing for $2 billion in concessions from state employees.

Arthur “Jerry” Kremer, a former New York state legislator backs up the premise saying “I think this helps [Malloy’s] efforts to find fresh dollars” in the form of concessions.  Kremer goes on to say that even though these are national results “the feelings are the same in Connecticut and all the adjoining states. This is a viral movement.”

At first glance it is a pretty persuasive argument…except it’s probably not true.

First, there are huge differences between a national sample of voters and a Connecticut sample.

Nationally, 35% say they are Republicans, 34% say they are Democrats and 31% say they are not affiliated with a Party. 

Compare that to Connecticut where 21% are Republicans, 37% are Democrats and 42% are Unaffiliated.

The Courant reports that about “63 percent of Americans say government workers should pay more for their benefits and retirement programs, while 31 percent disagree”.  They don’t break down the number in any way.  A review of the poll however reveals huge differences in opinion by party.

While republicans think public employees should pay more by a margin of 72 to 22 percent, Democrats are split 47 – 45 percent.

Right off the bat, a Connecticut poll, with nearly twice the number of Democrats than Republicans is going to look VERY different since it is the Republicans who believe that public employees don’t, in their mind, pay enough toward their benefits.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, pollsters know that how you word the question and where you place it has a significant impact on the type of answer you get.

It turns out that the in the Quinnipiac University poll, the state employee pay and benefit question came immediately after a set of questions about the possibility of shut down of the national government that would occur if there was an impasse between Obama and the House Republicans.  This section ended with a question that asked “  There is a bill that would prohibit members of Congress and the President from being paid during a government shutdown. Do you think that bill is a good idea or a bad idea? “

Now that is a loaded question if I’ve ever seen one and not surprisingly 78% of voters agree that it was a good idea to stop paying the President and Congress if there was a shut down.

It is only after dealing with the Federal shutdown and punishing the President and Congress, does the Quinnipiac Poll turns to the issue of State Employees and asks

“In order to reduce state budget deficits, would you support or oppose making public employees pay more for their benefits and retirement programs?”

Having worked with public opinion polls in Connecticut for more than 35 year I will assure you that the way this question is worded will get a yes answer.  A question that begins “In order to reduce state budget deficits” will generate a very different answer then one that says “There is a debate about whether State Employees should pay more for their benefits” which would get a different answer still from a question that said “In addition to what state employees are now paying toward their benefits, do you think”.

In fact, I am surprised that the people at the Q-Poll would use a question that is so methodologically flawed.

Finally, in this political environment, to ask voters whether they would support or oppose making public employees pay more without informing them what employees are not paying is like asking whether  you would like the gas companies to charge less for gasoline.

In addition to the benefits question, the Courant story also goes on to report that “The new survey also said American voters are split on whether collective bargaining for public employees should be limited — 45 percent say they support limits on the employees’ negotiating rights and 42 percent say they oppose such limits.”

Again, the interesting point for Connecticut’s public officials is not the generic number but what happens when you remember that the percentage of Democratic voters is far greater in Connecticut than in the nation.

The differences based on party affiliation are even more stark on this question.  While Republicans nationally support limitation on collective bargaining as a way to reduce budget deficits by a margin of 59 to 25 percent, Democrats oppose limitations on collective bargaining rights by 56 to 33%.

Once again, a Connecticut survey on this issue would look very different from a national survey.

To suggest that the results of this flawed national poll shows that the people of Connecticut support Governor Malloy’s efforts to go after Connecticut’s state employees is simply not true. It is  just as inaccurate to say that this poll would suggest that Connecticut’s voters support limiting bargaining rights and there is no evidence of that either.

Public opinion polls can be a useful tool when looking at the political environment in which decisions are being made, but this particular Quinnipiac Poll doesn’t shed light on the situation in Connecticut and is, in fact, of limited use nationally because of the way in which the questions are worded.