'Redprint' for GOP victory in Connecticut in 2020

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 said, “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 Governor Malloy from $2 billion to nearly $4 billion. 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. 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.

Take health care as an example. It was the number one policy issue in the mid-term elections. Democrats support Medicare for All (85% according to Pew Research) while Republicans oppose it (76%). In Connecticut, the issue was often framed more specifically in terms of paid medical and family leave.

Since Connecticut Democrats campaigned on paid leave, they will have to propose it. 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. Multiply that figure across approximately 1.6 million workers in Connecticut’s labor force.

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 billion to $4 billion deficit in the upcoming roughly $40 billion two-year budget.

The Democrats might say that 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. Companies can offer the benefit as they see fit, but they should be free to run their own operations without suffering under layers of government mandates. Already, Connecticut mandates up to five days of sick leave each year for most large non-manufacturing businesses.

Within the 72-member GOP caucus, there may very well be some whose constituencies have some unique need for this benefit. If there are just one or two members 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, which 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, the reduction of which should be the primary focus of the GOP. 

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

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