Slush Funding Will Preserve State Government’s Excesses

With as much as $4 billion in discretionary largesse about to descend on Connecticut’s state and municipal governments and school systems, economizing and improving services to the public will be removed from the agenda for a long time. These slush funds can only worsen the excesses and exploitation in government, even as the Yankee Institute’s extraordinary investigative reporter, Marc Fitch, has noted some big excesses this month.

Fitch reported that another 62 managers at the state Transportation Department are being permitted to unionize though their annual salaries range from $86,000 to $149,000, quite apart from their luxurious fringe benefits.

According to Fitch, an official of the state Office of Policy and Management explained at a hearing of the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee that the State Employee Relations Act “has a very stringent definition of a managerial employee” and it is difficult for the administration to meet the classification criteria — not even with positions whose salaries are so high.

Another OPM official was quoted as saying there were probably about 3,000 managers in state government 20 years ago but now there are only about 1,300. This produces a ratio of about one manager for every 30 employees, which isn’t much management at all. But then politics has ensured that there never can be much management.

Citing national data, Fitch notes that state and municipal government employees in Connecticut, at 74%, are the most unionized government employees in the country. The public gets no benefit from this, but candidates for state office get union support.

Fitch also notes that only two-tenths of 1 percent of Connecticut state government employees who have passed their probationary period are dismissed for performance reasons each year, making them either the best government employees in the world or the least managed.

Of course this doesn’t mean that state employees are bad people, just extremely privileged ones. It also means that most state legislators and governors are the tools of the government employee unions and that most taxpayers are uninformed.

This is not likely to change until the state’s minority political party has the wit and courage to pick up on the Yankee Institute’s work — and the desire to become relevant.

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STORY FROM THE STREET: Rivaling the Yankee Institute for the most important journalism in Connecticut this month was a report by the New Haven Independent’s Courtney Luciana last week about the heavy demand on a church-sponsored overnight “warming center” in Hamden that had to start admitting people by lottery while turning others away.

Interviewing the homeless as they lined up, Luciana waded deep into the real world.

There was an irresponsible young couple who can’t take care of themselves but whose female member had just gotten pregnant anyway.

There was a former drug addict who had just been laid off.

There was a college graduate who was fleeing domestic violence, had gotten evicted, and was sleeping under bridges.

There was a military veteran who said he came to New Haven because he thought he’d have a better chance to get housing and turn his life around.

Some of those seeking entry to the “warming center” had more affecting stories than others but their merits made no difference in the lottery. Because of lack of space many had to be turned away into the freezing night.

People should bear the consequences of their irresponsibility. They should pull their own weight. But government policy often encourages irresponsibility, and judgments must be suspended when people are stuck out in the cold.

In recent years Connecticut has reduced chronic homelessness with what is called supportive housing but has not made so much progress with the mental illness and addiction usually behind homelessness.

Government in Connecticut always has money for less compelling things, like raises and pensions for its own employees, and people throughout the state are celebrating rising prices for housing though housing is a necessity of life whose price should be driven down, not up. As the Independent’s report suggested, the most urgent work of government in Connecticut may remain in the street.

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Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.

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