Christine Stuart photo

Below the surface Wednesday and outside the hearing rooms, a budget battle between Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the legislature’s Democratic majority began to bubble up to the surface.

Early in the day Rell said negotiations to secure $295 million in concessions from the state’s approximately 50,000 union workers was going “slow.”

“We really have been trying very hard to avoid layoffs at all costs,” Rell said. “But there are going to be very few options in the future … I’m not going to rule it out.”

Later Wednesday afternoon Rell’s office sent this letter to legislative leaders warning that the $20 million in unspecified cuts included in last week’s deficit mitigation plan will result in layoffs and cuts to higher education.

“At this point in the budget – and at this point in the fiscal year – any meaningful cuts in Personal Services will now necessarily result in layoffs, while further reductions in Other Expenses will result in cuts to higher education,” Rell said. “There is simply no way around it. The Legislature needs to understand that this is the result of the choices they have made – and that other choices are available.”

Senate President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said Wednesday that while Rell suggests it is impossible for her administration to make these rescissions without laying-off workers and making cuts to higher education, it is important to note that just 24 hours before today’s news release, Rell ordered a freeze on all state agency purchasing for an estimated $4.7 million in savings.

“Furthermore, during negotiations over the last mitigation plan, the Rell administration opposed nearly $30 million in cuts and insisted that the savings be taken out of the final bill,” a press release from Williams’ office stated. “Many of these cuts – such as eliminating the Deputy Commissioner positions – were supported by both Democratic and Republican legislators.”

The unions have taken Rell’s letter Wednesday as a threat.

“Some may see the Governor’s statement as a threat to State public service workers” Ed Marth, the executive director of the University of Connecticut Chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said. “I have to question Governor Rell’s leadership when she talks about cuts to our public colleges and universities. That would be a death blow to our state’s economy and hurt everyone in Connecticut.”

In her letter Wednesday to lawmakers Rell said “I have only cut higher education once, because I did not wish to further add to the burden of students or their parents in making higher tuition payments in these extraordinarily difficult financial times.”

On Monday the Democratically-controlled Appropriations Committee is expected to identify $2 billion more in cuts, which it has said will provide a more accurate picture of the two-year budget. Since Rell released her budget on Feb. 4, Democratic leaders have said it closed a $6 billion budget gap, when they’re budget office has estimated the gap at $8.7 billion.