New Year’s Day — Or Groundhog Day?

NEW BRITAIN – During this time of giving and reflection, a new opportunity has emerged to help our state move toward a more prosperous future for all. Most Connecticut politicians have for the past two years refused to ask millionaires and corporations to pay their “fair share” to protect and preserve our state’s quality of life. But passage last week of permanent and massive federal tax cuts for the nation’s rich and powerful offers hope for reclaiming needed resources on behalf of Connecticut’s working families.

The legislation Congressional Republicans in Washington just rushed through and the president has since signed into law has been aptly called “the greatest theft in American history.” The final package is a tax cut heavily skewed to the ultra-rich and the largest corporations — and actually increases in value for earners and companies as their wealth grows.

Click here for an analysis of the new federal tax law by the editor of Popular Economics.

“Here in Connecticut, our wealthiest neighbors will be the prime beneficiaries of these tax cuts,” said Council 4 AFSCME Executive Director Sal Luciano. “It makes sense that they be asked to shoulder a bit more of the burden to shore up the future for our state’s working families and children. It’s an opportunity to restore some balance and lift some weight off the middle class,” added Luciano, who previously served as a social worker in the state’s children and families department.

Luciano’s comments refer to the inequality gap that continues to plague Connecticut’s revenue structure nine years after the Great Recession of 2008. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), our state’s middle class contributes twice the percentage of their income as compared to the top 1percent.

Click here for the latest data on Connecticut’s unfair tax system from ITEP.

“As state employees, we more than did our part — and without a sweetheart deal from Congress to entice us,” said CEUI/SEIU Local 511 President Ron McLellan. “We’re less than one half of one percent of Connecticut’s population. Yet, we stepped up to provide nearly a third of the savings needed to close the state’s current deficit and preserve vital public services,” added McLellan, previously a lead power plant operator at Central Connecticut State University.

McLellan’s comments refer to agreements reached this past spring with the Malloy Administration projected to yield $1.57 billion in labor cost savings during the current biennium. In exchange for securing their jobs and benefits, state employees in July ratified contracts that save $24 billion over the next 20 years to strengthen the services they provide.

Click here for our report-back on ratification of the 2017 State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC) agreements.

Despite the outsized contribution of union members, legislators this past fall chose to reduce the remainder of current and future budget deficits by further burdening working and middle-class families. A toxic package authored by Republican leadership passed in September threatened to gut collective bargaining rights and slash public safety, health and education services. While it was vetoed by the governor, many of its harmful policies resurfaced in a compromise budget that in October was ultimately signed into law.

“For Connecticut’s elected leaders, the question now is whether we are celebrating a New Year’s Day — or Groundhog Day,” said AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel. “Will they seize the opportunity to ask those benefiting from a huge windfall to resolve to give back to help those most in need in 2018? Or are they instead going to repeat the policies of the past two years and let the donor class prosper at the expense of the rest of us?” added Hochadel, previously a physics and science teacher in the state’s technical high schools.

Adding to the urgency of Hochadel’s call for action is the emergence of a growing deficit in the current biennial budget less than two months after its passage. Republican lawmakers this past summer voted in lock-step opposition to state employees’ cost savings — and then pushed through policies that punished union members for doing the right thing.

We can hope Republican legislative leaders will avoid a Groundhog Day-like repeat of their open hostility to working families in 2017. Anyone concerned about the quality of life for the vast majority of Connecticut residents should be prepared as we enter the new year to mount an effective resistance.

At the same time, it is important to remember that several Democratic lawmakers openly supported legislation rolling back collective bargaining rights during last year’s legislative session. Nine — including three in the state Senate, where the parties are evenly divided — then broke ranks to vote in favor of the toxic state budget authored by Republican leadership.

In the spirit of the holidays, elected leaders from both parties should instead foster an atmosphere of working together to protect Connecticut’s quality of life. That will only happen if active and engaged union members demand that their representatives and our governor partner to prioritize a fair share approach.

This new year, let’s all resolve to work for policies that reform outdated wealth and income tax laws, repeal failed corporate welfare schemes, and prioritize relief for working families.