This week’s FROM WALLINGFORD was written by my counterpart on the column – Stephen Knight
When Ford designs a car, the engineers put components through test conditions that the machine will never, ever encounter. Eighty degrees below zero temperatures, punishing corrugated road surfaces, you name it. They do that because extreme stress magnifies every design and manufacturing flaw that would be completely overlooked under ordinary driving conditions.
Right now, the State of Connecticut is certainly under plenty of economic stress, and the flaws in its "system" of labor arbitration are coming to the surface. The Town of Wallingford has two contracts in arbitration, and the most glaring flaw in how these will be settled is that the determination will largely be based on the town’s "ability to pay."
Wasn’t it Karl Marx, author of the Communist Manifesto, that said "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need?" And since that credo has been adopted by the state labor department, does it not become apparent that this system was designed based on politics instead of economics? Towns and cities across the state are seeing their tax base flee out of state or out of the country, making it more and more difficult to make ends meet, but Hartford, completely ignoring that reality, bases its cram-down labor contract decisions based on a totally disproved political philosophy from the nineteenth century.
It gets worse. It would be bad enough if this thinking was based on the determination of a town’s taxpayers’ ability to cough up more money to pay the increases. At least then you could connect the dots and sort of understand how the collectivists in the state’s labor department and the state legislature came to their conclusion. But the definition that has been adopted is based on the town government’s financial condition.
This is where Wallingford taxpayers really get shafted. As mentioned in previous columns, our population’s median income falls below the state average. Many, many financial decisions made by public and elected officials in Wallingford are based on this fact. The bond rating services use median income as a key component in determining a town’s fiscal condition, because it is presumed that a town with a wealthy population could better withstand a fiscal emergency better than one whose taxpayers are at their limit.
So our excellent bond rating runs contrary to the conventional thinking. Why? Because our town government maintains a healthy unappropriated cash balance, giving those rating agencies confidence that we can meet an unplanned emergency expense.
But it’s a Catch-22 situation. The financial community sees our prudence and conservative fiscal management as a big plus, but the state labor arbitrators see this is as a perfectly acceptable reason to rule against the community and its taxpayers. So what does this kind of thinking encourage? Town X spends more than it takes in, borrows up to the hilt, avoids the sometimes awkward and uncomfortable position of challenging the demands of their public employee unions, and they are rewarded for their mismanagement by Hartford. Town W does just the opposite by actually applying effective management tools to its operation and is penalized. Only in the Alice In Wonderland world of progressive political thinking does this make sense.
The ultimate solution would be to dismantle the entire labor arbitration apparatus as it is presently constituted. But here in the People’s Republic of Connecticut, that is about as likely as my being drafted into the NFL. So how about we start by eliminating this perverse disincentive to common sense municipal governance?