(Updated 5:05 p.m.) As the two budget writing committees debate the tax and spending plan negotiated by the legislature’s Democratic majority and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Republican lawmakers were quick to point out the power it gives to Malloy’s budget director.
The negotiated budget, which does not include the $1 billion in labor savings needed to balance it, gives Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes the power to cut $1 billion from the budget if labor-management discussions don’t end well.
“It gives one man, the secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, $1 billion—at his sole discretion—to cut anything he cares to in all three branches of government,” Cafero said.
Barnes said the measure was necessary because discussions with the labor unions are ongoing and they have no idea what form any concessions or savings will take.
“Because we don’t know exactly what the nature of those things are it gives us the ability to take a package of reductions and apply it to the appropriate accounts,” Barnes said.
But Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney said it gives Barnes unprecedented authority.
During debate on the measure, Sen. Rob Kane, R- Watertown, said “if I was a cynic I’d say this is the biggest power grab in the state’s history.”
But not everybody agreed.
“With all due respect to my colleagues… the truth is we have to act now,” Sen. Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury, said in support of the legislation. “This is about responsibility and getting this thing done.”
Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby, disagreed.
“Quite frankly people elect us to make these decisions,” she said.
“It’s a billion dollars,” Rep. Pam Sawyer, R-Bolton, stressed. And she pointed out the power wasn’t even going to the governor, but his appointed budget director.
“I really think this concession of authority is a major mistake,” Rep. Art O’Neill, R-Southbury, said. Not only does the legislature give up its power in this language, it also gives up the judicial branch’s budgetary authority, he said.
Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, said the reason is because there are union employees in all of those branches and will need to make changes in all those agencies once they make an agreement. “This is an acknowledgment of a fact that if an agreement is reached with SEBAC the Secretary of OPM will need to make changes in all of those agencies,” he said.
“This is not meant to be a change in the balance of power,” Fleischmann said.
Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, said the reason behind the language was ensure the state can balance its budget if it doesn’t get the union concessions it needs.
“We all discussed the need for clarification,” Walker said. But an attempt to amend the language didn’t quite meet that standard and a Republican amendment didn’t quite make the cut.
“We’re not going to just give up our responsibility,” Walker stressed.
Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven, said “we are not delegating any authority of the legislature to the secretary of the Office of Policy and Management.”
She said she understands the language is confusing and it will be clarified as things proceed. She said it was intended to give Barnes the power to make changes to all these different accounts, some of which he doesn’t have the authority to change without this language.
Larry Dorman, spokesman for the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, said it’s his understanding the language simply grants OPM the authority to recover up to $1 billion. He said it’s a sensible amendment.
The Appropriations Committee approved measure this afternoon.