Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signaled Tuesday that he would lay off a portion of the state workforce before the end of June and asked legislative leaders to help him make more than $200 million in spending cuts now.
Outside his Capitol office Tuesday, Malloy was still unable to say exactly how many state workers he may need to lay off in order to balance the budget, but he said layoffs will be “very substantial.” And information about those layoffs is expected to be announced “relatively soon.”
Malloy said he wants to reduce the workforce this fiscal year, which ends June 30.
“I’ve had to pay as governor for a lot of other people’s problems. I’m trying not to give some future governor the wonderful gift that John Rowland gave me,” Malloy told reporters outside his office Tuesday.
Former Republican Gov. John G. Rowland’s decision to illegally lay off 2,800 state workers 13 years ago cost the Malloy administration nearly $100 million to $125 million to settle. The settlement, negotiated by Attorney General George Jepsen, gave state employees who are still employed by the state more vacation and personal days than economic damages.
But news that layoffs are something the governor is considering shouldn’t come as a surprise.
When he unveiled his budget Feb. 3, Malloy told legislators it “will require the reduction of the state workforce by more than a thousand employees through attrition and other means.”
Malloy administration Budget Director Ben Barnes said there will be “many fewer state employees” if the budget revisions are adopted. He has said “several thousand” of the state’s nearly 46,000 positions will vanish.
In his letter Tuesday to Republican and Democratic legislative leaders, Malloy asked them to suggest ideas for spending cuts by Monday, March 14.
A few hours after sending the letter, Malloy met with legislative leaders in his Capitol office.
Legislative leaders decried Malloy’s decision to delay about $141 million in supplemental payments to hospitals. In his letter Tuesday to lawmakers, Malloy said he understands they oppose delaying the payments.
“Our action was a delay, not a cancellation,” Malloy wrote. “The delay enables us to have a more holistic discussion about how we should collectively react to revenue shortfalls that occurred after our fall meetings.”
Legislative leaders said they fought to have those payments restored in December.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, has said “withholding them is unacceptable.”
But just how far are legislative leaders willing to go in order to restore them?
Malloy said there’s a budget shortfall and he’s asking for suggestions rather than “dictating results.” However, his options at the moment are limited.
The state is three-quarters of the way through the fiscal year and is “more limited in what we can cut,” Malloy said.
“In government, it’s hard to re-adjust people’s spending expectations even when there’s an acknowledgment that the revenue is not there,” Malloy told reporters outside his office.
Sharkey said Malloy has the responsibility to present a deficit mitigation plan to lawmakers when the deficit exceeds 1 percent of the general fund.
“There’s a lot of work to do in a relatively short time,” Sharkey said.
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said unless the state makes the necessary structural changes to the budget then lawmakers are going to be dealing with deficits every four months.
He said he’s not optimistic that Malloy will release the money to the hospitals, even if other spending cuts are suggested.
“Temporary in this building usually translates to never,” Fasano said.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, renewed his call to the governor to release the payments to the hospitals.
“It is time to release payments to our hospitals,” Looney said. “Democrats in the General Assembly already successfully fought to preserve this critical funding — it was a key part of our agreement with the governor in December.”