For all the state workers getting their pink slips this week, I am so sorry. There was no will in the legislature to do anything else, your union leaders couldn’t bring themselves to open up negotiations over pensions and benefits, and a bitter, angry public just wants to see the ax fall.
So here we are, whether we like it or not. The budget will balance, but by the time this is done nearly two thousand, not counting retirements and positions not filled, will be out of work. It’s a bad time made worse, apparently, by the callousness in which it’s being handled. Unions are howling and putting out TV ads to try and save the ones who are left, but that doesn’t help the people whose jobs are already lost.
It’s a slow-motion disaster that everyone saw coming and no one bothered to prevent. But what happens after the layoffs end?
There are several kinds of possible fallout from a big round of government job cuts. The first is economic, and it’s not going to be pretty. The effect of slashing government jobs is well-established by now; it’s a serious drag on the economy. If you think GE moving a few hundred executives out of state was a blow, this is going to be a lot worse.
Most, if not all, of those being laid off are middle class workers who spend their money here in Connecticut. Not only will they be out of a job, but the local businesses they may have patronized will feel the loss as well. The ripple effect from such a big round of layoffs will be felt all over the state. Ironically, government will feel the pinch as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if revenue estimates have to be revised downward again.
Many state and local governments laid off workers by the thousands during the worst days of the recession, and evidence now shows that doing that actually hindered the recovery instead of helping it. In hindsight this seems obvious. Up until now, it felt like Connecticut did the right thing in not having massive layoffs. But if 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that things can always get worse. So prepare for economic pain.
Another sort of fallout from these layoffs will be political. State employee unions look impotent, Democrats seem to be either waffling politicians or villains, and the surprisingly restrained Republicans look prescient and adult. It’s a weird reversal of how politics is supposed to run around here.
It’s telling that nobody in power seems to have tried to save these jobs. The usual cries of “tax the rich!” went completely ignored, and the reaction to the start of layoffs in the legislature has been less irate and more resigned. Not even calls to close the deficit gap with more taxes post-layoffs went heeded. Senate President Martin Looney, usually a friend to the unions, said that taxing the rich was less and less useful as a source of income for the state.
That is very bad news for a labor movement that’s seen better days. There’s going to be a lot of broken trust going forward. Unions will be less likely to trust Democratic leaders who didn’t act to save jobs, and those union members remaining will be less likely to trust union leaders who didn’t act to prevent layoffs.
How this all shakes out in November is hard to say. Maybe there will be a primary or two. I have trouble seeing anyone winning votes on outrage over laid off state employees, not with the public as grumpy as it is, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see labor give it a shot.
The last and arguably most important way this plays out is about the government itself. We’re going to find out how many courthouses we can do without, and what happens when DCF facilities are even more dangerously understaffed. We’re going to see longer lines at the DMV, longer waits for paperwork, fewer safety inspections, and understaffed prisons. Social services for people with mental health and addiction issues will be less robust, economic development needs will go unmet, and so on and so on.
We’re going to find out what less government is actually like. I somehow suspect we’re not going to like it much.
And after all of this, after the layoffs and the budget cuts and the slashing of education funds, what if the deficit still doesn’t go away?
What do we do then?
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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