Here’s a “redprint” for GOP victory in Connecticut in 2020.
1. Don’t fight the last war. The 2018 election was contested in the rosy context of an unexpected burst of $2 billion of non-recurring tax revenue. By 2020, the state will be in full blown fiscal crisis. As hockey great Wayne Gretzky says, “Skate to where the puck will be, not where it is.”
2. The state budget will never balance until state employee benefits are reduced. Benefits for active and retired state employees and teachers almost doubled under Gov. Dannel P. Malloy from $2 billion to nearly $4 billion per year. They are projected to increase $400 to $500 million over the next two years. Relentlessly demand reductions. Oppose any “solutions” without reductions.
3. Don’t compromise with the Democrats. They have the governorship and super-majorities in both houses of the General Assembly (the 60 percent-plus needed to approve overrides of all the new fiscal restraints). They will do whatever they want. Never negotiate from a position of weakness, especially total powerlessness.
4. Compromise within the GOP caucus — different Republicans have different constituencies, but the caucus should present unified positions.
5. Draw contrast with the Democrats. Voters don’t want a choice between Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. Explain why Democrats are raising taxes and cutting basic services and state aid: because they won’t reduce exploding pay and benefits payments to state employees and teachers.
Take health care as an example. It was the No. 1 policy issue in the mid-term elections. Democrats support Medicare for All (85 percent according to Pew Research) while Republicans oppose it (76 percent). In Connecticut, the issue was often framed more specifically in terms of paid medical and family leave.
Connecticut Democrats campaigned on paid leave, and they have announced they will implement it (along with a $15 minimum wage). Republicans should oppose it, quite simply, because the state cannot afford it.
What would paid leave cost? Last June, New York City extended paid family leave to its 120,000 teachers at an estimated annual cost of $51 million, or $433 per teacher. Across approximately 1.9 million workers in Connecticut’s labor force that would cost more than $800 million annually.
It might seem that Connecticut can afford it given the robust current economy (where the puck is). However, there is no way the state can pay for it, given where the puck is going — into a $3.5 — $4 billion deficit in the upcoming roughly $40 billion two-year budget.
The Democrats might say business should pay for it. But companies are already leaving and avoiding the state given the high tax, high cost, traffic-jammed environment.
The Democrats might suggest employer or employee tax breaks, but that is another way of the state paying for it: tax breaks cost the state, as less tax revenue is collected.
The GOP should offer unified opposition to paid medical and family leave, which does not prevent companies from offering the benefit — as they see fit. Companies should have the freedom to run their own operations without suffering under layers of government mandates. Already, Connecticut mandates up to five days of paid sick leave each year for most large non-manufacturing businesses.
Within the GOP caucus — 13 senators and 59 representatives, there may very well be a few members whose constituencies have some unique need for this benefit. If there are just one or two who feel they must support paid leave, a simple statement that “the exception proves the rule” might suffice.
Otherwise, the caucus should offer members the option of supporting paid leave at the federal level, namely on a level playing field. If the same benefit were available in all states, no state would have an advantage or disadvantage. A federal benefit would not chase businesses out of Connecticut the way a state funded/mandated program almost certainly would. (It would worsen the federal budget deficit.)
The option of supporting the benefit at the federal level would accommodate diversity within the GOP caucus. In addition, this federal-level-only position would highlight even more dramatically the reason for unified opposition to a state-level benefit: Connecticut’s fiscal crisis, which the last eight years of one-party Democrat rule has made worse — and further expansion of big government by Democrats will only deepen by 2020.
Democrats can never restrain their tax-and-spend habits, or muster the courage to stand up to public sector union bosses who have extracted from the Democrats’ unaffordable gold-plated health care and pension benefits, whose skyrocketing cost is squeezing out all other spending. Reduction of those benefits should be the primary focus of the GOP.
Red Jahncke is president of Townsend Group Intl, LLC, a Greenwich-based consulting firm.
Red Jahncke is a nationally recognized columnist, who writes about politics and policy. His columns appear in numerous national publications, such as The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, USA Today, The Hill, Issues & Insights and National Review as well as many Connecticut newspapers.