Earlier this week the House Democratic caucus claimed that Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell could call a coalition of state employee unions back to the table to renegotiate its contract.
At a press conference Monday Democrats alleged that because the state’s revenue had dipped below the trigger amount of $300 million, Rell has the power to call the unions back to the bargaining table.
House Speaker Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, suggested that Rell get the unions to agree to delaying a scheduled $100 million contribution to the state employees pension plan.
But the governor’s office doesn’t necessarily agree.
Rell’s Budget Director Robert Genuario said Friday that “in our view revenues have not dropped enough to trigger,” a renegotiation of the contract.
The governor’s office has argued that a 1991 opinion written by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal says the state Comptroller, who at the time was William Curry Jr., must use the Office of Policy and Management’s revenue figures, in the monthly report submitted to the governor.
As of Nov. 20th the Office of Policy and Management, which is also known as the governor’s budget office, projected a $245 million drop in state revenues.
Genuario said he is currently working on his Dec. 20th projections and was unable to say with any certainty that the revenues will dip below the $300 million trigger. He did say that if revenues drop down further than the $245 million projected in November that the governor will take advantage of the trigger provision and meet with the unions.
However, he said if the revenues dip another $55 million to get to the $300 million mark the net savings from delaying $100 million pension contribution is only $45 million, which “gets us back to where we started.”
Matt O’Connor, spokesman with CSEA/SEIU Local 2001, said in a phone interview Wednesday that the unions feel the revenues have met the $300 million threshold and would be happy to return to the negotiating table.
“That’s not to say we’re in favor of more concessions,” O’Connor said. He said the unions would be happy to sit down with Rell and discuss some real solutions to the budget deficit, but have not been formally called back to the table by the governor.
As far as the budget deficit is concerned, O’Connor said the unions are willing to help the state come up with ideas.
He said one thing the governor can start doing immediately is get the state’s Contracting Standards Board to meet and start reviewing contracts to find out if there’s any waste. The board has not met since Dec. 2008 and is expected to reconvene on Jan. 1.
O’Connor said if the appointments have been made then the board should be meeting and looking for savings.
As far as the delay in pension contributions is concerned, O’Connor said they were given some bad choices at the bargaining table and had to chose the lesser of the evils. He said it was not an “easily arrived at decision,” but was preferable to other offers that were made.
“No one’s happy with it, but we can live with it,” O’Connor said.
What they should be talking about is finding a more stable and reliable source of new revenue for the state, he added.
Majority Leader Denise Merrill, D-Mansfield, said Friday that party leaders aren’t really focusing on delaying the scheduled pension contribution because that’s something the unions and the governor have to work out. She said the legislature’s Democratic majority are trying to work out the details of some spending cuts and delay in the estate tax. She said it’s possible the General Assembly will return on Monday for a special session.