HARTFORD, CT — Democratic lawmakers were breathing a sigh of relief Tuesday after word that state employees were close to inking a concession deal with Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
The details of the five-year deal show the state would save $712.6 million in the first year and $849.4 million in the second year. Neither Malloy or the unions have said there is a deal yet, but a framework of the agreement they’ve been working on was given to the media Monday as bits and pieces of the deal had begun to leak out.
“I’m very thankful that they’ve come to an agreement,” House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said Tuesday during a Capitol press conference.
The amount of savings means lawmakers and Malloy only have to find about $1.6 billion in spending cuts and revenues to balance the budget. However, that also assumes leadership of the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition will vote to open the health and pension part of the contract that doesn’t expire until 2022.
The agreement, which asks state employees and retirees to contribute more to their health and pension benefits, doesn’t offer explicit layoff protections.
“It truly is better than the alternative,” Aresimowicz, who works as an education coordinator for AFSCME Council 4, said. “It locks in some level of job security.”
He said it makes “substantial changes to the overall benefit package” and brings it more in line with private companies. He said the deal includes 90 to 95 percent of what Republican legislative leaders have been calling for regarding changes to the pensions by creating a hybrid 401k and defined benefit plan for new employees.
Aresimowicz said when the labor deal is ratified by rank-and-file unions members his intention is to return to the state Capitol, likely after the end of the session, to vote to approve the deal. The legislature has the ability to allow the deal to sit on the calendar for 30 days and automatically go into effect.
He said the labor deal will be assumed as part of the budget process, so in a sense they will get to vote on it twice.
Eighty percent of the SEBAC leadership, which includes the presidents of the state employee unions, will need to vote to reopen the contract. Then 8 of the 15 unions and 50 percent of the voting members will be needed to win ratification before it goes to the legislature for approval.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said the union package seems to meet the number they were counting on for concessions for the next two years.
He said he understands it’s going to take about a month for the union leaders to have meetings with their members to explain the package. He said his understanding is they would hold votes around June 19 and June 23.
That’s before the June 30 end of the fiscal year.
Looney said lawmakers could adopt a budget assuming that ratification of the deal by the unions will take place.
Aresimowicz said the “worst possible thing for the state of Connecticut, for us in elected services, and those in union employment throughout the state was if this deal was not ratified one way or another.”
He said they can’t go back and ask for more concessions at this point and they should work to approve the deal that’s one the table.
Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said he’s waiting for the actuarial analysis of the deal before passing judgment on it.
“Until I get the numbers I cannot say whether I’m in favor of this or not,” Fasano said. “I’m skeptical, but I want to see the numbers.”
He said this can’t be looked at as a two year deal. It has to be looked at as a 10 year deal. He said he’s skeptical of the need to extend it another five years to 2027, but is reserving judgment until he seeks the actuarial analysis.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said the savings don’t justify extending the “unaffordable pension and healthcare benefits five years.”
“Committing taxpayers, future governors and the next five legislatures to paying for fringe benefits that are unseen anywhere else but in state government — and a pension system that is collapsing around us as we speak — is unfathomable,” Klarides said. “After months of negotiations, this proposed deal falls short of where we need to be.”