Republican legislative leaders wasted little time reminding their Democratic colleagues and Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy that they believe they have solutions to the state’s fiscal crisis.
At a press conference at the Legislative Office Building on Monday they trotted out 13 proposals they were unable to get Democrats to agree to back in December.
One of the proposals was to give the legislature the authority to approve the state employees health and pension package when it comes up for negotiation in July 2022. The rights would still be protected as a property interest, but not as a constitutional right.
The Republican proposal calls for increases in state employee health contributions from 5 to 15 percent and excludes overtime from pension payments. It would also eliminate longevity pay for all state employees and seeks to move them from a defined benefit pension plan to a defined contribution plan.
“We don’t believe it’s working in the way they intended it to work,” House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said. “And at the very least, we can’t afford it.”
The Republicans also recommended conducting a study of instituting a 40-hour work week for all state employees who currently don’t work 40 hours per week.
The head of one of Connecticut’s largest public sector labor unions said Republicans need to change their focus.
“I would urge Republican leadership to focus on reducing income inequality and closing the growing wage gap facing working families,” Sal Luciano, executive director of AFSCME Council 4, said. “Their current proposals amount to nothing more than cutting the wages and benefits of middle class workers who happen to be public employees. Instead of taking money out of the pockets of every day working people, it’s time to ask the wealthy and big corporations to pay their fair share to support the vital services our members provide to everybody.”
But Klarides said the state needs to try something different because the state budget continues to experience deficits based on its current policies.
She said the state is “in a hole we’ve never seen before and something needs to be done and it’s not one thing.”
Malloy is expected to unveil a 2016 and 2017 budget Wednesday that changes how state agencies are funded. Instead of giving state agencies a budget and allocating a specific amount of money to each program and line item, the administration will give the heads of agencies a lump sum to distribute as they see fit.
Sen. Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said it’s an acknowledgement that the “Democratic majority does not want to do their job.”
Fasano added: “Even the governor of their own party recognizes that the Democratic majority does not want to do their job.”
At an unrelated press conference Malloy said he believes “our managers need the ability to manage the resources they have to accomplish the missions we assign them and I think that’s the right way to go.”
Asked if that type of budgeting was necessary because the Democratic majority in the legislature isn’t fiscally responsible, Malloy bristled at accusation.
“Give me a break. Give me a break,” Malloy said claiming it was Republicans who were fiscally irresponsible in proposing a budget that restored the $600 million in spending cuts Malloy suggested last year.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, called the Republican press conference Monday bombastic.
“The Republican leaders have been in the General Assembly long enough to know that our formal budget process begins with the governor’s recommended adjustments followed by the engagement through public hearings and committee votes of the Appropriations and Finance Committees,” Looney said. “The GOP leaders’ demands seek to expand their own role and to disenfranchise committee members by undermining the committee process for their own partisan ends.”
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, had a similar reaction.
“We all agree it is critical to bring more predictability and sustainability to the overall budget over time, and structural changes are the only way to make that happen, that’s why I am disappointed the Republicans, on the eve of a new session, have chosen to revert to their tendency to point fingers instead of leading,” Sharkey said.
The legislative session begins on Wednesday.