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Uncertain state budget as new fiscal year begins

WINSTED — The new fiscal year officially began Friday, July 1, but the future of thousands of state employees remained unclear, as Gov. Dannel Malloy reiterated his promise to zero out the state’s deficit and balance the budget — with layoffs, if necessary.Some of the most intense negotiations of the past several weeks were scheduled to resume Tuesday, July 5. Union representatives said they would reconsider their position on concessions after rejecting an offer by the Malloy administration that would have avoided layoffs.The rejected deal called for reduced benefits and a two-year wage freeze, but only 11 out of 15 of the state’s unions in the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC) approved the plan, with 57 percent of members agreeing. SEBAC rules require 14 out of 15 votes and 80 percent of members to approve a renegotiated agreement. The strict voting requirement was designed to make it difficult to rescind rights earned in previous agreements.On Tuesday, June 28, Malloy resorted to Plan B, announcing he would begin layoffs totaling 6,466 state jobs. The majority of job cuts would hit the corrections, transportation, developmental services, mental health and addiction services and judicial departments, and Malloy requested $54 million in cuts to municipal aid to cities and towns, both this year and next. He then called on the General Assembly to hold a special session to amend the 2011-13 budget to reflect changes in how cuts would be negotiated.On Thursday, June 30, with a day left before the beginning of the new fiscal year, the state House and Senate went into special sessions to consider giving Malloy greater authority to adjust the budget, including increasing recission authority from 5 to 10 percent for line items. Legislators rejected five of Malloy’s requests, including cuts to municipal aid, expanding his ability to privatize state services, power to decrease state employee sick days from 15 to 10, freezing longevity payments and eliminating overtime pay from the calculation of state employee pensions. The governor was left with two primary powers, 10-percent recission authority for individual line items and layoffs of state employees.Still too much power?Following the vote, Sen. Andrew Roraback (R-30), said he was both confused and dismayed by the decision to give so many additional powers to the governor. “There are a lot of things I’m not understanding,” he said. “I was very disappointed in the inaction of the legislature in the face of this crisis. I don’t think my constituents elected me to hand over all decision-making authority to one person. It’s really not the way our process was designed to work.”But with Malloy in the driver’s seat, some legislators appeared to be banking on the governor’s ability to negotiate from a position of strength in an attempt to reach a final agreement with state employees. Roraback also said he thought the decision amounted to an abdication of responsibility. “It’s a totally wait-and-see thing now, but what was most disturbing to me was that the Legislature said to the governor, ‘Go ahead and strike a different deal with the unions, and don’t bother to include us or require our approval.’ “I think it’s a huge dereliction of my duties as a state senator. I think the people that I represent have had their voices taken away. Roraback added that reducing the deficit, gaining concessions and balancing the budget amount to a huge, complicated issue. “But that, in my opinion, is why we need to be involved. We shouldn’t walk away from the problem.”Under agreed-upon amendments to the state budget, Malloy has until July 15 to deliver a revised budget plan to the Legislature, with or without layoffs and/or concessions. In the meantime, the administration would await the outcome of Tuesday’s meeting of state union representatives, who said last week that they do not want to see layoffs happen.Common groundAfter a meeting of union leaders Friday, July 1, spokesman Larry Dorman said leaders were working to develop a consensus. “We are trying to find a way forward to make sure that we prevent layoffs, prevent service cuts and prevent economic chaos,” he said. “I think the best thing we can do is re-emphasize that we are going to be part of a solution going forward. We respect what the governor has said but at the same time, nobody would have thought we might be talking about finding common ground back in February. We have found common ground.”Roraback said he believes both sides are trying to do what is best for the people of Connecticut, but he is concerned that the minority party is being left out of the process. “The debate is not hostile,” he said. “It’s certainly spirited and it’s heartfelt. I think it’s been frustrating for members of the minority party to suffer the indignity of one-party rule. I think there is a reason that Americans like to see checks and balances in the system, and living through one-party rule makes me appreciate the wisdom of the American people.”No matter what disagreements there are, union representatives seemed certain that a final decision would be made this week. “We have no choice” but to reach an agreement,” Dorman said. “We have to commit ourselves to finding a way out of this.”

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