Last week, Democrats suggested that Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell call the state employee unions back to the bargaining table to help mitigate the current budget deficit by delaying a scheduled $100 pension payment. On Monday, Rell said her chief labor negotiator, Saranne Murray, reached out to the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition and asked for a meeting.
The unions say they received the phone call, but no meeting has been scheduled. They say they’re happy to meet to talk about “real solutions to the continuing economic crisis,” but “emphasized that they will not be returning to the bargaining table to negotiate additional concessions.”
“It is essential that we examine additional savings over and above the $100 million in deferred pension payments,” Rell said in a press release Monday.
But the press release doesn‘t say anything about the internal dispute going on within the governor‘s own administration regarding the talks.
Just last week, Rell’s Budget Director Robert Genuario said that “in our view revenues have not dropped enough to trigger,” a renegotiation of the labor contract. He said that if revenues drop down further than the $245 million projected in November, the governor will take advantage of the trigger provision and meet with the unions.
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. The state Comptroller’s revenue figures exceed the $300 million trigger.
It’s unclear if the press release is a signal from the administration to say that the $300 million trigger has been reached.
Rell’s Republican colleagues in the Senate don’t think delaying the $100 million pension contribution is a good idea.
“That’s a terrible idea,” Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Southport, said Monday. “As if the state employee’s pension fund isn’t underfunded enough, we’re going to underfund it an additional $100 million.”
But it looks like Rell may be warming up to the idea.
“As the state budget continues to deteriorate amid falling revenues and a sluggish national economy I continue to do all I can under my authority to bring state government spending in line with fiscal reality,” Rell said in a press release. “That includes finding more labor savings.”