Will legislators dare confront the cannibals?

With its annual radio advertising campaign calling on state government to keep appropriating billions in reimbursements for municipal budgets without ever asking critical questions, the Connecticut Council of Municipalities has a mock taxpayer declaring indignantly, “My hometown is definitely not a special-interest group.”

But hometowns can’t very well pretend not to be special-interest groups when they spend more than half their money on a special interest — members of government employee unions. 

That’s what the growing fear at the state Capitol and at city and town halls is about — the fear that, as Connecticut’s economy continues to decline and state government’s finances keep deteriorating, elected officials might be forced to acknowledge that most tax revenue is spent on personnel whose ever-rising costs are cannibalizing the rest of the government and can’t be controlled without confronting the most fearsome special interest, government employee unions, the base of the majority political party, the Democratic Party. 

Such confrontation would raise the question of why the biggest single cost of state and municipal government — indeed, most municipal government expense — has been removed from the ordinary democratic and budgeting processes by state collective bargaining and binding arbitration laws and thereby insulated from the financial pressures faced by everything and everyone else. Such laws don’t serve the public; they serve the special interest being insulated.

Despite the catastrophe Governor Malloy has made of state government’s finances, with his record tax increase and incoherent spending increases having produced only more deficits and economic decline, even now the state budget and municipal budgets probably could be stabilized if personnel costs were returned to the democratic process and reduced by 10 percent through salary and benefit reductions. No one would have to lose his job. 

Reconsideration of state government’s worst mistaken policy premises, the longstanding subsidies for social disintegration, could wait for another day. Services to the most innocent needy, including the mentally disabled, mentally ill and addicted, could be preserved rather than reduced as the governor has proposed.

But legislators would have to decide and declare that government in Connecticut must have a purpose higher than coddling its own employees. Does the state have enough civic-minded people to sustain such legislators, or are the civic-minded now outnumbered?

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Agitation to put a woman on U.S. currency is politically correct but that doesn’t make it wrong, especially since the agitation is targeting the $20 bill, inhabited by President Andrew Jackson, who, while renowned for his devotion to the Union amid the first stirrings of secession, was a vicious enemy of unoffending Indian tribes and a facilitator of their genocide, as well as an opponent of paper money in the first place.

Fifteen or so women have been proposed to replace Jackson but the best nominee is Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Unlike the other nominees, Eleanor Roosevelt advocated fearlessly, and politically incorrectly, in her time for a full range of oppressed people — women, blacks, and unorganized industrial workers. She also visited U.S. soldiers around the world during World War II, wrote hundreds of newspaper columns and actually held important government office as a U.S. delegate to the United Nations, where she helped craft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and opposed communist tyranny. 

Thus she accomplished more for the country than the other nominees, and her modesty and stoicism amid personal disappointments may have made her the most admirable Roosevelt of them all. 

Eleanor Roosevelt thereby embodied the greatest redeeming trends of the country’s history, while Jackson is largely retrograde today. She should be the one to replace him on the $20 bill.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.