(Updated 6:30 p.m.) Gov. M. Jodi Rell said Tuesday that while she believes the budget she presented to the General Assembly earlier this month was balanced she will have her budget office get together with the legislature’s budget office and the state Comptroller’s office to see if they can agree on the budget deficit.
Rell’s budget office had projected a $6 billion budget deficit for fiscal years 2010 and 2011, while the legislature’s budget office projected an $8.7 billion budget deficit for those same two years.
“I put together a budget based on the facts I had at the time,” she said. “I think we all agree the budget deficit continues to grow.”
In an emailed statement, Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said he is encouraged by Rell’s announcement.
“It is apparent that the budget that Gov. Rell proposed two weeks ago will not put our fiscal house in order,” Looney said. “I appreciate Gov. Rell’s willingness to revise her projections and trust that when new deficit numbers are agreed upon, that she will work with the legislature to find solutions.”
At the moment Rell said she still won’t entertain any talk of tax increases until the legislature can put some spending cuts on the table. “I’m not talking revenue until we talk cuts,” she said.
“I’ve said from the very beginning we need to make budget cuts,” Rell said. “I’m the only person that has put budget cuts on the table.”
In addition Rell said she was still working on her fiscal year 2009 budget mitigation plan to help reduce the more than $1 billion deficit this fiscal year. She has asked the legislature to take a vote on the package, which she has yet to unveil, on Feb. 25.
Along with her budget mitigation plan, Rell’s staff will be meeting with legislative leaders Wednesday morning to talk about a retirement incentive package for state employees over the age of 55.
In a press release sent out on Friday, Rell urged the Democrat-controlled legislature to come up with a retirement incentive package, also known as a RIP, to offer qualifying employees before April 1. “It is my hope that we can trim the payroll through a plan like this,” Rell said in the press release.
Jeff Beckham, spokesman with the Office of Policy and Management, said Tuesday that the governor could negotiate a RIP directly with the unions or the legislature can pass a law providing for it.
Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, said in a phone interview Tuesday evening that he was under the impression that a early retirement package was being negotiated by the state employee unions and Rell.
“That’s where this proposal belongs,” Donovan said. He said it’s not the legislature’s job to negotiate with the unions. “She needs to put a proposal together and present it to us,” he said.
Rell has asked representatives from all four caucuses to meet with her and the Office of Policy and Management to come up with an early retirement package.
Donovan said he will not be sending anyone from the House Democratic caucus to the meeting Wednesday morning.
“The Speaker is right—the retirement incentive should be addressed in SEBAC leaders’ ongoing discussions with the Governor’s representatives,” Matt O’Connor, spokesman with CSEA/SEIU, said in a statement Wednesday morning. “Asking the legislature to circumvent the process is not helpful to reaching a mutual agreement with our unions’ members on a comprehensive solution— which is what the Governor should be focused on right now.”
Derek Slap, spokesman for the Senate Democrats, said Tuesday that the governor’s office has yet to lay out specifics of the RIP.
How would it work? And who would qualify? These are all details that have yet to be spelled out by the governor, Slap said. He said while the Democrats are open to the idea they would like to see who would be leaving and on what terms.
“Clearly this needs to be done strategically,” he said.
Click here to read an Office of Legislative Research report on Early Retirement Incentive Packages.
The state employee’s coalition, SEBAC, which is negotiating with Rell over possible concessions was not immediately available for comment Tuesday afternoon.