The General Assembly convened its veto session Monday and, as expected, more than a dozen lawmakers in attendance decided not to override any of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s six vetoes. But they did not adjourn the June 30 special session held to increase the governor’s rescission authority, leaving the door open to budget cuts and layoffs if no labor agreement is ratified.
During the June 30 special session with the defeat of the labor agreement fresh in their minds, the Senate decided to send union members a message and passed a bill that changed how pension payments are calculated. The House decided not to take up the bill that day and instead decided to use it as motivation to encourage the unions to find a way to approve the agreement and save thousands of public sector jobs.
However, House Speaker Chris Donovan said Monday the bill still remains on the calendar because there is no labor agreement yet.
“We haven’t closed the special session because there’s still no agreement and we want to see if we need to come in and adjust the budget anymore,” Donovan said.
Donovan, a staunch supporter of labor, said whenever he sees union members he urges them to respect the wishes of the majority and approve the clarified agreement. That clarified agreement released Friday evening makes 11 revisions to the first agreement that passed with 57 percent of the voting members in favor of it. It failed because four of the 15 unions voted against it. Under the rules in place for that vote, in order for the agreement to pass it needed to be ratified by 14 of the 15 unions and 80 percent of the voting members.
The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition voted last week to change those rules so that only 8 of the 15 unions and 50 percent of the voting members are needed to win ratification.
“The alternative is unacceptable,“ Donovan said Monday. “They ought to ratify it and we can move along with our balanced budget.“
Sen. President Donald Williams said the legislation his chamber passed was to send a message to the labor unions.
The bill was created to implement parts of the concession package after the first agreement failed, he said. The preference all along was to have an agreement ratified.
“It’s often important, not only to take action when we know something is going to happen, but also to take action to inspire future change,” Williams said on June 30 during debate on the bill. “So whether the House takes this up—and that is possible, whether they take it up in the future or not, it is critical that we take this action if for no other reason to send an incredibly important message that we want to move this State in a different direction.”
Asked Monday if he would still urge the House to raise the measure, Williams said let’s wait and see what happens with the clarified agreement.
The alternative to a labor deal involved budget cuts that reduced or eliminated state services, including closing nine respite centers, five Department of Motor Vehicle branches, several rest areas, and the elimination of 6,560 positions, about 1,599 of which were vacant.
Even House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said in general he prefers that an agreement be ratified by the unions, so that no one has to be laid off.
“What I am seething about is the chaos that has been heaped upon the state of Connecticut,” Cafero said. “We have people who don’t know whether or not they have their jobs, more importantly the citizens of the state of Connecticut have been reading and have had to make preparation for,” these potential cuts that may or may not materialize.
Cafero said he had a constituent with an autistic child who pulled up to a respite center last week and found a note saying she should make arrangements for next week because it was expected to be closed. He said the kind of abrupt notice has and will cause chaos.
“There’s been no order to this,” Cafero said. “There’s been no plan.”
While Republican lawmakers have been fairly quiet as Malloy and the unions seek to reach an agreement, Cafero did say he will again ask the Office of Fiscal Analysis to look at the clarified agreement and determine if it saves the state the $1.6 billion it purports to.
He said the first time the nonpartisan office looked at the agreement it was only able to verify something like “$600 million” of the savings proposed by the agreement.
“There’s no certainty in this state. There’s no certainty tax wise, regulation wise, program wise, even for some state employees employment wise,” Cafero said. “The state of Connecticut is in a state of uncertainty it seems like on a perpetual basis and this is exactly what the governor said would not happen.”
“Even when we didn’t have a budget two years ago we were in a less chaotic state than we are now,” Cafero added.
But Democratic lawmakers are looking at moving forward.
“I think like everyone we want this to go forward, we want the will of the majority of employees, the 57 percent who voted for it the first time around, to be honored and perhaps to have more of their colleagues join them in their second vote,” Williams said Monday.
He said they haven’t ruled out a public hearing on the governor’s budget cuts but hope it doesn’t come to that.
“I think it’s a reasonable assumption that there would be a public hearing on or about [August] 15th. Now if the vote gets moving quickly and we have some results and we know that the concession agreement is going to be ratified then we don’t want to waste the taxpayers’ money and everyone’s time with hearings and discussions that are unnecessary,” he said.
Both Williams and Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney agreed they must continue to plan for that hearing in case the deal does not get ratified. The ball is now in the court of the state employees, they said.
Looney said that it’s not necessary for the governor to try to sell the clarified agreement to state workers.
“At this point I think it’s quite clear. Everybody should know what the stakes are, if they didn’t the first time. I don’t know what more in the way of clear messaging could be said than the layoff notices that are going out,” he said. “That, if nothing else, should focus everyone’s attention on what’s at stake here.”
Despite vocal concerns from some state employees that the SEBAC negotiating process is no longer working while other states around the country are moving to take away negotiating rights for their workers, Williams said now is not the time to make radical changes to how Connecticut deals with its employees.
“Generally it has worked, and worked reasonably well. This was an extraordinary time and an extraordinary economic downturn for our country, which affected Connecticut and 49 other states. All systems I think have been under a lot of pressure, I think in Connecticut and elsewhere,” he said.
SEBAC has already taken appropriate steps to look at its own process by voting to change its bylaws to make ratifying a negotiated agreement easier, he said. Crisis sometimes help focus people to make necessary changes he said.