The Senate was poised to approve a $19.76 billion state budget for 2017 Thursday, but labor unions remained hopeful they could create enough concern among House members to defeat a deal they say will damage the quality of life for all residents.
The House is expected to vote Friday on the same budget that the Senate is expected to pass later Thursday. The regular General Assembly session ended last week before the House and Senate could finalize a budget package to send to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
The package, which cuts spending by about $820 million, also anticipates $300 million in savings from state employee layoffs and attrition. The budget cuts about $35.1 million in labor costs from the Judicial Branch, $45.8 million from the Correction Department, and $50.4 million from the Department of Development Services.
Malloy has already begun layoffs in the executive branch and expects to shed about 2,500 jobs through a combination of layoffs, retirements, and attrition. There are 650 executive branch employees and 239 Judicial Branch employees who already have received their pink slips.
Union leaders believe the budget the Senate planned to adopt Thursday would include far more layoffs — as many double the amount the governor projects.
The package cuts municipal aid, which, along with state public service cuts, likely will lead to layoffs in schools and to local property tax increases, according to union leaders. The proposed measure could also lead to layoffs for up to 5,000 state workers who provide essential services to working families, as well as seniors, the disabled, and veterans, according to union representatives of Connecticut state workers.
“Governor Malloy and legislative leaders tried to pass a similarly shameful budget on the last day of the legislative session, but failed to get enough votes,” Lori J. Pelletier, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, said. “We once again urge them to abandon their quest for a budget that is balanced on the backs of working people and the state’s most vulnerable.
“A vote for this budget is a vote for laying off rape crisis counselors, correction officers, nurses, mental health workers, and teachers,” Pelletier continued. “A vote for this budget is a vote for gutting mental health services, cutting dental care for children, and reducing municipal aid which will lead to fewer services and higher property taxes.”
She suggested the state look at repealing lost revenue due to tax expenditures, or a fine on large employers who don’t pay their employees $15 an hour.
Tyler Mitchell, a union organizer for New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199, was standing outside the Senate chambers on Thursday morning holding a “Vote No” sign.
Mitchell said he was “against a budget that further cuts services to the most vulnerable in our state. It’s just that simple. It’s a bad budget.”
Mitchell was one of dozens of state workers who were at the Capitol lobbying against the budget on Thursday. Many of them said they had been laid off from their jobs already or were “nervous” that they would be next on the list to lose their jobs.
Roland Bishop, a state school teacher in the Department of Correction, said he wants to see the state’s wealthiest pay more taxes.
“Instead of bringing taxes up to a fair level for the wealthiest, the governor and legislative leadership are proposing deep cuts that will damage local governments, school districts and small businesses at the heart of our economy,” Bishop said. “We know that taxing the very wealthy at a fair level — as in New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey — will produce the revenue that is needed to keep middle-class people from bearing the burden of these proposed cuts.”
Carmen Roda, an adult probation officer for the past 14 years in the Judicial Branch, warned that the layoffs are going to have a major negative impact.
“What we don’t know is how many courthouses that will close — or how the Second Chance society initiative will work without enough probation officers to supervise clients,” added Roda, who serves as president of the Judicial Professional Employees (JPE) Union, AFT Local 4200-B. “Simply put, this budget threatens our state’s quality of life by jeopardizing community safety.”
There are, in the 16 unions employing state workers in Connecticut, a total of 45,000 employees.