Monday, April 04, 2016

Could the Senate’s youngest member be its wisest?

David Collins
David Collins
This commentary by David Collins first appeared in The Day on March 31.  Sen. Linares' video update can be seen at the bottom of this article.

To hear the self-congratulatory speeches in the Connecticut Senate this week, as lawmakers signed off on $220 million in cuts to the state's $19 billion budget, you might have thought they had just dried off from swimming the Atlantic, or some other Herculean task.

Honestly, it was breathtaking in scope.

They even bragged how some made phone calls to each other — worked! — over the holiday weekend.

Senator Linares
You wonder where in the world they hope to find the strength to get to work on the next needed cuts, close to a billion dollars or more, which will make this week's trimming look like couch change.

You get the impression in listening to lawmakers that they weren't really paying attention when the governor warned them in his opening of the session that the world is now upside down, that Connecticut budget-making will never be the same.

As lawmakers swooned over each other in the bipartisan lovefest of congratulations this week, the governor noted it was maybe OK to celebrate — for a day.

I was more impressed with some of those who didn't sign on for the short-term budget fix.
One of three senators voting against the deal was Republican Art Linares of Westbrook, who lamented in his remarks on the Senate floor that no attempt has been made this session to address deep structural problems within the budget.

His smart and focused remarks this week reminded me of the first time I met Linares, in 2012, after the then 24-year-old political novice had just finished winning his first election, earning a seat in the Connecticut Senate.

A pretty good start, one he achieved with what he likes to extoll a lot: hard work.

A varsity athlete at Westbrook High School who was captain of three different school teams, he enlisted the help of dozens of old classmates for his first campaign. It was run by his 22-year-old brother.

Linares told me then he literally wore holes in three pairs of dress shoes, going door to door to introduce himself to voters.

His political career began only after he found business success, having co-founded a commercial energy company that, at the time of his first electoral win, had just landed a $30 million contract to install solar panels on 27 Wal-Mart stores in Massachusetts.

Today, the company has a quarter million panels at 160 installations in 10 states.

And the senator has yet to celebrate his 30th birthday.

On the Senate floor this week, he gently chided fellow legislators for not doing more to address the underlying problems.

In this respect he sounded a lot like the new Gov. Dannel Malloy, the one who, almost like a recovering addict, has been trying to lead lawmakers from the bottle.

Linares first suggested, as his party leaders had earlier, that the budget remediation should have significantly reduced the state's $200 million overtime budget.

That must be the businessman in the young senator. What business owner wouldn't look first to cut overtime when expenses are up and receipts are down.

Out here in the real world, overtime now seems to many of us to be some quaint old-fashioned custom or device, like dial telephones.

Linares also suggested in his remarks to the Senate that he had heard too many lawmakers say this session that there was nothing to be done about unions refusing to negotiate concessions to pension and health care benefits.

The hand-wringing over the union stubbornness centers around agreements for benefits that contractually are in place until 2022.

Instead, Linares said, lawmakers should begin to address major changes now to the post-2022 benefits for state union workers.

Of course, he's right. Nothing would bring the unions to the bargaining table now, to address the immediate fiscal crisis, faster than starting to enact big cuts for down the road.

If you won't help us now, is the veiled threat here, imagine how bad things are going to look after 2022.

And then, having explained himself to his back-patting colleagues, and after offering some other concrete suggestions, Linares voted no.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

Capitol Update from Sen. Linares

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