Walsh's Wonderings — Betraying teachers

Conflict brings out both the best and worst in us, and the current state budget battle is no exception. Most of us are already battle-weary from months of debate at the national level around the Affordable Care Act, debt ceiling and tax reform. However, the Republican budget currently in front of Gov. Malloy just spit on public school teachers.

I’ve always respected spirited debate, trusting it allows for our better angels to emerge and find solutions from both sides of the aisle. Constellating figures come forward from the cauldron of contention, framing the argument in ways that clarify the choices in front of us.

This has been the case since our country’s inception. At the start of the Revolutionary War on this very day (Sept. 21) in 1776, Capt. Nathan Hale of the 19th Regiment of the Continental Army was captured by the British and sentenced to death as a spy. Asked if he had any final words, he famously replied, “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” He instantly became our burgeoning country’s most famous martyr.

Four years later on this exact same day, Continental Army Gen. Benedict Arnold gave British Maj. John Andre the plans to West Point, effectively switching sides and cementing his status as America’s most famous traitor. (Henry Dunnack wrote that Arnold once asked a Continental prisoner what the Americans would do if Arnold was ever caught; the prisoner replied, “They will cut off the leg which was wounded when you were fighting so gloriously for the cause of liberty, and bury it with the honors of war, and hang the rest of your body on a gibbet.")

Just as these two incidents helped frame what we were fighting for at the time, we’re now starting to see some some of these constellating figures materialize out of the budget haze. The Republican budget passed 21-15 in the Senate and 77-73 in the House with three Democratic senators (including Sen. Gayle S. Slossberg) and five House Democrats (including Rep. Kim Rose of Milford) siding with Republicans. Like some Bizarro-World Robin Hood, they’re chosen to steal from the poor to give to the rich.

According to Ed Leavy, president of the State Vocational Federation of Teachers, “Section 152 of the Republican budget increases mandatory teacher contributions to 7% for January 1, 2018, while Section 153 increases it to 8% for July 1, 2018. Both section specify the extra money goes into the general fund, not the teacher pension fund.”

The Republican budget seeks to penalize public school teachers for … being public school teachers! They’re calling it a 2% “increased contribution,” but it’s not going toward the underfunded pensions at all. This teacher tax goes instead to the general fund to cover up years of mismanagement that teachers had nothing to do with. This proposed budget literally steals money from public school teachers by calling it a “contribution.” That’s like robbing a bank and calling it a dividend.

Middletown Mayor and Connecticut Gubernatorial candidate Dan Drew wrote of the proposal, “They refuse to tax the wealthy more than 6.99% but they'll hit public school teachers with special taxes at 8%. This is disgusting. Endorsing it is a betrayal of decency. The people who voted for this budget have literally voted to tax teachers because they're teachers.”

There’s more of course. The 700-page Republican budget also ends collective bargaining on state employee pensions, allows towns to override arbitration decisions, and reopens collective bargaining decisions while keeping most of Malloy’s ECS (Education Cost Sharing) cuts and major reductions in higher education.

Teachers trusted Mr. Malloy when he said he respected the importance of educators. Now, 237 years to the day after Benedict Arnold betrayed those loyal to him, this is our Governor’s moment. His constituents aren’t asking him to sacrifice himself as did Nathan Hale; they’re just asking that he not betray them as did Benedict Arnold.

If you agree it’s wrong to force teachers to donate their salary to fix what they never broke, contact your representatives. I still believe our better angels will emerge.

You can read more at RobertFWalsh.com, contact him at RobertFWalshMail@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @RobertFWalsh.