Shortly after midnight the House approved by a vote of 127 to 9 a more than $700 million concession package agreed to last week by the state employee’s coalition. Shortly before 1 a.m. it approved by a vote of 122 to 10 the early retirement package and changes to the benefit structure, which were also part of the concession package for both union and non-unionized employees.

The package was negotiated by the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition and Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

“Kudos to the state employees and kudos to the governor,” House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said.

While he said he would have liked to see more savings, “I have to appreciate the facts.”

He said most of the union employees would not have been laid off because they have seniority and many voted for the agreement in order to prevent the layoffs of individuals below them in the hierarchy. He said even if the state laid off 10 percent of the workforce, the 10 percent that does not have seniority, it would have saved about $100 million less than the negotiated agreement.

Rep. Shawn Johnston, D-North Grosvenordale, said he did not caucus this bill with either the Democrats or the Republicans and feels that the package simply delays the inevitable by deferring contributions to the state employee’s retirement fund. He said he did not support this bill because it will make it that much harder to put together a budget in 2013 when the state does not have a rainy day fund or federal stimulus funds to prop it up.

Rep. Tom Reynolds, D-Gales Ferry, agreed with Johnston, but voted in favor of the bill. He said deferring a $150 million pension contributions is not a savings in the long run, but he trusts that this agreement was reached in good faith.

Rep. John Geragosian, D-New Britain, said these are extraordinary times. “I urged the governor to sit down and talk with the unions and she did that,” he said.

Over the years the legislature has had chances “to do the right thing,” he said. “Maybe next time we get a chance we’ll do it.” Geragosian was referring to missed opportunities to pass a more progressive income tax and other policy decisions which would have increased the state’s revenues at a time when the economy was good. 

The Senate is expected to vote on the package Friday.