Ryan Fazio No taxation without representation (except in Connecticut)
Centuries ago, Connecticut patriots bravely fought for America’s independence under the banner of “no taxation without representation.” But in modern times, Connecticut ended up with just that. Taxpayers today bear the brunt of an exorbitant fiscal burden foisted upon them outside of the normal democratic process, submitting peacefully to what they would not have accepted without a fight 240 years ago.
The state has spent billions of taxpayer dollars, and committed billions more, via at least 169 government union contracts since 1991 that supersede state law and were approved without a single vote cast in the Assembly for them, according to the Office of Legislative Research . Lawmakers abdicated their responsibility for stewarding the public’s resources over decades and passed the buck to unelected and unaccountable actors, including bureaucrats, arbitrators, and unions. Worse yet, Assembly Democrats are trying to move Connecticut toward even less democracy at this moment.
Two major bills recently passed committee that would further the nefarious cause of taxation without representation. The first is a paid family and medical leave entitlement program funded by a new 0.5 percent payroll tax on workers’ wages. It promises payments up to $1,000 per week for up to 12 weeks every year to people who take a leave of absence from their job for medical reasons or to care for a relative or “close association.” The bureaucracy is tasked with verifying the veracity and appropriateness of the leave claims.
A prior analysis from the Office of Fiscal Analysis indicates a similar bill would cost more than the stipulated tax would raise from the start, as tens of thousands of people decide to utilize the lavish taxpayer benefits. But instead of confronting the burdens they are placing on taxpayers in the Assembly, lawmakers are dodging it by writing into the bill powers for bureaucrats to raise the tax themselves. The bill permits the Department of Labor to increase withholdings if a deficit arises and the Assembly does not vote to the contrary with a three-fifths majority within 30 days. In that case, higher taxes on workers are “deemed approved” without a vote affirming them by the people’s elected representatives. “Deemed approved” and the voters be damned.
The second bill regards highway tolling, which is the feature issue in Connecticut politics today. Behind Democrats’ promise of significant benefits for insignificant costs lies a sleight of hand. One of their three tolling bills passed through the Transportation Committee enables the Department of Transportation to make a proposal for tolling the state highways—including the number of gantries, placement of gantries, and cost of tolls — that will also be “deemed approved” by the Assembly if not explicitly voted down within just 15 days.
This legislative dodge enables Democrats to avoid accountability on an issue where 59 percent of voters oppose their position and the cost to workers is acute. The more lawmakers can distance themselves from unpopular consequences of policies they favor, the better their electoral standing. They can have their cake and eat it, too. Voters, meanwhile, get short shrift.
Even if the above bills luckily failed to pass the Assembly, Connecticut would still face an egregious democracy deficit. The status quo was improved slightly in 2017 but remains unacceptable. That year, Assembly Republicans forced reforms that removed the ability of unions and the executive branch to effectuate billions of dollars’ worth of collective bargaining agreements for government workers without a vote in the Assembly. However, three major provisions remain that co-opt the rights of the people of Connecticut to self-determination in favor of rule by government employee unions.
The first major offense is binding arbitration for government employee union contracts. Going forward, collective bargaining agreements must be voted on by the Assembly. If most lawmakers reject a contract now, it goes to arbitration. The result of the first arbitration returns to the Assembly for a vote. If most lawmakers vote the new contract down, it returns to arbitration for a second time. However, the second result of arbitration is “deemed approved” regardless of the Assembly’s position. So, despite the ceremony, the unions, executive bureaucracy, and arbitrator still hold the power.
Directly related to that is the second offense: collective bargaining agreements supersede state law. If the Assembly passes a bill that contradicts a collective bargaining agreement, the relevant provisions of the former are void. Government unions take precedence over voters.
The third major offense against democracy in Connecticut is collective bargaining, particularly for government employee health and pension benefits. Currently the state is one of only four that determine retirement benefits for such workers by collective bargaining. The rest of the nation refuses it because it is expensive, opaque, and an offense against representative government per se. Collective bargaining means the appropriation and disbursement of the people’s money is determined by negotiations between unions representing private interests and the executive branch, without legislative input and electoral recourse.
The burdens fall broadly on the people of Connecticut, while the power and benefits go to a narrow group. Under this perverse regime, it is little wonder Connecticut has suffered the lowest income growth in the nation, while amassing the second-highest unfunded liability in the nation. Until and unless the integrity of the democratic system is repaired, turning the state’s economy and fiscal crisis around will be impossible.
An otherwise failed historian once quipped that “history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.” What’s gone on over and over and over again in Connecticut state government is a farce. Voters should no longer permit Democrat politicians and government unions to make a mockery of Connecticut. “No taxation without representation” should be the clarion call for voters every year until representative democracy is fully restored in the Constitution State.
Ryan Fazio grew up in Greenwich and graduated from Greenwich High School in 2008. He lives and works in Stamford, writing and volunteering at schools in his spare time.