Profiles in cowardice; or how not to vote

Democrats have absolute power in Hartford. They hold the governorship and 60 percent plus majorities in both houses of the General Assembly. They have the votes to do anything they want, but they don’t want to vote.

They began this year’s legislative session employing a novel process called “deemed approval,” under which the legislature approves something if a vote has not been taken by a certain date. It is the ultimate triumph of non-accountability.

Recently, they’ve changed strategy somewhat, replacing deemed-approval with a more conventional abdication of legislative authority to unelected bureaucrats at state agencies and appointed board members of newly created quasi-public commissions and authorities.

How exactly does deemed-approval work? The Democrats pass legislation with virtually no details, just a statement of broad intention. The bill mandates that an unelected body will prepare an actual plan, which will be submitted to the Assembly at a later date and, then, “deemed approved” within a specified number of days, or as of a specified date, if the Assembly has not voted.

Democrats have employed this novel no-vote strategy on the most consequential legislation, including proposed bills completely reorganizing the state’s public schools, installing an extensive network of highway tolls and launching a paid family and medical leave program.

Senate leader Martin Looney led things off in January with his bill creating a commission to consolidate school districts under a plan to be effective on “July 1, 2021, if such plan has not been approved by the General Assembly and signed into law on or before July 1, 2020.”

Public outrage at prospective loss of local control of schools killed Looney’s bill, even before there was much focus on its undemocratic deemed-approval provision.

Toll and paid leave bills advanced — bills mandating state agencies to prepare detailed plans for Assembly approval and surrendering the most fundamental legislative function, the levy of taxes, to the agencies. Future toll rates would be set by the Department of Transportation and the payroll tax rate to fund the paid leave benefit by the Department of Labor.

The U.S. Congress doesn’t delegate to the U.S. Department of Labor authority to increase payroll taxes for Social Security or Medicare.

Various early tolls bills mandated that the DOT develop a tolling plan for the state’s four major highways. None included specifics, including nothing about toll rates. Two bills, including Gov. Lamont’s initial proposal, pre-approved whatever plan DOT developed. No vote for approval or “deemed approval.”

The third bill provided for a vote on the actual plan; however, it would be deemed approved if the Assembly hadn’t voted within just 15 days.

Now, Lamont has revised his proposal, instead proposing to create a new commission to approve DOT’s ultimate plan and DOT’s proposed toll rates after an initial few years of legislatively fixed rates. DOT’s plan and future toll rates wouldn’t come back to the Assembly for any kind of approval. This constitutes taxation without representation, something even elementary school children know something about.

Senate Democrats are pursuing the approach, passing a paid family and medical leave bill that creates a new quasi-public authority to manage the benefit, instead of the Department of Labor. In a strange twist, the bill empowers the Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Authority to reduce the benefit amount if tax revenue falls short. Rarely are benefits cut, given how inherently unpopular cutbacks are. It’s no wonder Democrats want to avoid casting votes on potential future benefit reductions. No surprise they delegate that thankless task to the unelected board.

It turns out that there is precedent for this year’s outbreak of deemed approvals and abdication of decision authority to unelected bodies. Connecticut is one of a few states that set state employee compensation by collective bargaining. During the quarter-century that Democrats have controlled both houses of the Assembly, the resulting labor contracts have been deemed approved after 30 days without an Assembly vote. In fact, the Assembly voted rarely, until the 2017 legislative session when the law was reversed, with the contract deemed rejected if the Assembly fails to vote.

Great reform, right? No so. If the Assembly rejects a contract, it goes to arbitration (not renegotiation). If, then, the Assembly rejects the arbitrated contract, it goes to binding arbitration, ultimately to be approved by an unelected labor arbitrator. It never comes back to the legislature. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

This constitutes spending without representation. There’s a fearful symmetry to the Democrats’ methods: spending without representation balances taxation without representation.

This behavior undermines the fundamental operation of democracy, which might inspire a counterpoint to John F. Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage,” except, of course, that you cannot write a book profiling nameless non-accountable elected officials.

Red Jahncke (Twitter: @RedJahncke) is president of The Townsend Group Intl. LLC, a Connecticut business consulting firm.

 

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