Despite the union’s best efforts to put a positive spin on the situation, any hope that the concession deal could be salvaged dissipated from the State Capitol on Thursday when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy called for a special session of the legislature.
“Calling both chambers into session next week is necessary to close the budget deficit that we will be facing,” Malloy said in a prepared statement. Malloy’s statement assumes the unions were unable to ratify the two-year, $1.6 billion concession package.
The call for the special session schedules it for 10 a.m. Thursday, June 30.
“I am loathe to make the decisions facing us at this juncture – including layoffs, programmatic and municipal aid cuts – but I am left with no choice,“ Malloy added. “Working with the legislature, we will have a balanced budget and one that, while making painful cuts and difficult decisions, will be balanced honestly without tricks or gimmicks.”
In the call to the special session Malloy asks the legislature to expand his rescission authority and to make the changes necessary to balance the state budget before July 1, the start of the new fiscal year. The legislature declined to expand Malloy’s rescission authority during the regular legislative session. Democratic leaders declined to comment on the increased rescission authority request.
Currently, the governor can cut 5 percent of any appropriation and three percent of any fund in a financial crisis without legislative approval. Malloy asked the legislature to increase the threshold to 10 percent of any appropriation and five percent of any fund. Further, Malloy asked the legislature to allow him to cut municipal aid without legislative approval.
Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said he’s not opposed to giving Malloy greater rescission authority if the legislature returns and balances the budget. He said he thinks giving the governor additional rescissionary authority will help if the state finds itself short of revenue mid-way through the year, like it did back in 2003.
Malloy has ruled out further increasing taxes and using any additional revenue the state may realize to close the $1.6 billion gap in the $40.11 billion budget he signed May 4. It was up to the unions to either accept or reject that deal. The deal included a four-year, no-layoff pledge and no wage increases in the first two years followed by 3 percent increases in the last three. It also made changes to their health insurance and pension benefits, but did not offer any early retirement incentive package.
House Speaker Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, could not be reached for comment, but put out a vague statement.
“We hope the unions will fulfill their agreement. We plan to be in session on June 30, and we will work with the Governor for a balanced budget,” Donovan said.
“We are determined to have a balanced budget and had hoped state employees would ratify the agreement,“Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said. “In the absence of that we are prepared to take action on a painful alternative and plan on being in session on June 30th.”
Malloy said Thursday morning he has issued marching orders to Budget Director Ben Barnes to prepare for mass layoffs, which will occur as soon as Sept. 1.
Malloy had previously estimated the number of layoffs at as much as 7,500. Today, he said there was no reason to think that number had dropped. It may actually be higher, he said.
“I think we’re talking about large scale position reduction pretty quickly,” Malloy added. “Certainly on a larger scale than if we had been able to make these changes effective July 1.”
But Larry Dorman, spokesman for the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition, said that laying off so many people will surely be bad for the state.
“We understand that the governor wants to get moving but the nuclear option doesn’t serve anyone’s interest. It would be horrible for the economy to witness mass layoffs,” he said.
The unemployment is currently 9.1 percent and state employee layoffs would bring the number up to 9.4 percent.
“It would be a disaster to go nuclear. So everybody needs to take a breath and make sure that we all do what’s best for Connecticut,” he said.
SEBAC spokesman Matt O’Connor said Malloy’s continued threat of layoffs is only serving to hinder what’s left of the voting process.
“I would tell Gov. Malloy to let the election process work itself out. We have thousands of members of our unions who have not had their voices heard,” he said.
Republican lawmakers, including McKinney, have publicly criticized the $1.6 billion concession package. McKinney has been saying for weeks that the concession package doesn’t include actual savings. He said many of the things in the agreement, such as the savings achieved by creating an employee suggestion box, “aren’t concessions.”
“We don’t even think they’re real savings,” McKinney said.
As for the threat of laying off of thousands of employees, McKinney said that ignores the fact that there’s plenty of places to cut in the budget, which don’t involve laying off employees.
Despite the threats, McKinney said he doesn’t think the layoffs will be as massive as Malloy said.
“That assumes the entire hole is going to be made up just in layoffs and ignores the fact that there are a number of different programs where we spend money and where we can reduce our expenditures that don’t impact state employees,” McKinney said.
McKinney, who ran into three state employees recently while having lunch, said talk of a re-vote of some unions is insulting to state employees because it implies they didn’t know what they were voting on. He said the three state employees at the Fairfield deli certainly knew what was in the package and what was in the state budget.
He said all three employees he met were voting against the package because they didn’t think state government had cut spending.
O’Connor said no one in union leadership is talking about the possibility of a re-vote. He said they’re all focused on concluding the current vote.
Balloting on the union package continues through Friday, but the likelihood of passage was slim as of Thursday.
CSU faculty, UConn Health Center faculty, the Administrative & Residual union, and the Congress of Connecticut Community Colleges all voted overwhelmingly in favor of the package, according to the vote tallies posted on their websites. That brings the number of unions approving the package up to 10.
Only one of the 15 unions has voted against the agreement. The results of the AFSCME NP-4 Correction officers bargaining group aren’t expected until after 11 a.m. Friday.
Fourteen of the 15 unions have to vote in favor of the agreement, in addition to 80 percent of the voting members in order for the deal to pass. At the moment it’s the second portion of the vote tally that’s causing concern.
AFSCME, which is the largest union with 15,600 members, currently doesn’t have enough votes to meet the threshold and no other union has enough members to cancel their negative votes. The Connecticut Employees Union Independent Local 511, which represents 4,500 service and maintenance employees, voted down the agreement Tuesday by about 194 votes. That means no other union can reject the package if it is to survive.
Hugh McQuaid contributed to this report.