Will Gov. Dannel Malloy be able to repair his relationship with public employee labor unions in time to get their support back for his re-election bid in 2014, if indeed he’s his party’s nominee?

It’s been pretty well documented that 2012 was a disastrous year for the governor’s tenuous ties to Connecticut’s teachers unions. His state-of-the-state speech in January (“show up for four years … and tenure is yours”) set the tone for an ugly battle over education reform in which Malloy emerged with only half a loaf from the legislature.

And of course, the seeds of distrust among public employee unions were planted even before that. Soon after he took office, Malloy was confronted with a $3.7 billion budget deficit. In a display of brinkmanship, he presented state employee unions with a plan to wring $1.6 billion in labor concessions from them — or he would start issuing pink slips. In the end, most of the unions caved.

Now in the latest imbroglio with the State Police union, we see yet another example of Malloy’s persistence in the face of tremendous pressure from organized labor. But this one could be a tougher nut to crack.

When he ran for governor in 2010, Malloy told the union he supported a law passed by the General Assembly requiring the state to employ a minimum of 1,248 sworn troopers. It’s a long story, but during last summer’s labor stand-off, the troopers refused to make wage concessions, so Malloy laid off 56 troopers, bringing the state well under the statutory minimum. The union responded with a lawsuit that’s still pending and a planned non-confidence vote against senior State Police leadership.

Now Malloy wants to repeal the statute he had previously endorsed in order to get the troopers’ support during his gubernatorial campaign. And his flip-flop notwithstanding, I hope the governor succeeds. Anytime the subject of the statutory minimum is broached, however, there are the inevitable cries from the union and police advocates who point to the 1998 murder of Chaplin resident Heather Messenger by her husband. Because of low overnight staffing in the sprawling coverage area of Troop D in Danielson, it took troopers 20 minutes to respond to Messenger’s frantic 911 call, by which time she was dead.

I take a back seat to no one in wanting the police to have adequate resources to ensure public safety. And what happened in Chaplin is a tragedy and an outrage. But a law passed in the months after a tragic murder that mandates a minimum number of troopers is just plain silly. The minimum does not take into account a potential drop in crime rates or advances in technology that might obviate the need for 1,248 sworn troopers. Consequently, the minimum looks like nothing more than a sop to the police union and a legislative overreaction to an emotionally-charged event.

For his part, Malloy wants to replace the minimum with a data-driven model. Where will the data take us? That remains to be seen. For all I know, it might lead us to conclude we need more than 1,248 troopers. Or it could lead to efficiencies that save taxpayer money. But I’m prepared to look at the facts rather than take the lead from people who have an interest in elevated staffing levels.

Meanwhile, Malloy has a long way to go to repair his relations with the unions in time for his 2014 re-election bid. Still, as sour as the ties between the Malloy and the unions are, where else is organized labor going to go in two years? Tom Foley? Larry Cafero? I don’t think so.

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Like everyone else who pays attention to the economic woes in our state, I noticed a report last week from the Connecticut Center Of Economic Analysis at UConn indicating that a weak projected economic recovery in 2014 will be made worse by an aging workforce.

As has been repeated in this space over the last 16 months, Connecticut has the worst record in the nation for creating new jobs over the last two decades.

Consequently, as the state’s economy grew at a glacial pace, young people fled Connecticut and we haven’t been able “to attract significant new population,” setting the stage for a soaring dependency ratio and a bleak future, according to the report.

I trust no one is surprised by this forecast, but it’s still sobering to see it laid out in black and white. It’s a concept that far too few understand. Burden businesses too much and they won’t create the jobs needed to sustain the big government we New Englanders evidently want. Younger people, whose ties to the state are typically the weakest, subsequently migrate to the land of opportunity.

We need a pro-growth agenda in Connecticut. Not necessarily lower taxes, although that would help. And we don’t just need the state to bribe companies to come here or stay here. We need to create an environment that is less oppressive—one that encourages job creation through reform of what CCEA President Fred Carstensen has called “the worst permitting regime in the country.”

Public employee unions can complain all they want about the right-wing’s war on working people. But without vigorous economic activity, we’ll all be looking for greener pastures. And there won’t be much need for schools or—aside from the unemployment office—state bureaucracies either.

Terry Cowgill blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com, is the editor of ctessentialpolitics.com and was an award-winning editor and senior writer for The Lakeville Journal Company.

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, is a Substack columnist and is the retired managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill or email him here.

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