GOP lawmaker says Rell deficit plan goes easy on state workers

Gov. M. Jodi Rell took a hit from within her party today when a leading Republican lawmaker accused her of going easy on unionized state employees in her latest plan to eliminate this year’s budget deficit.

Rep. Craig A. Miner of Litchfield, ranking House Republican on the Appropriations Committee, told Rell’s budget director during a public hearing that the administration’s $504 million deficit-reduction plan should have proposed far more in savings that require union cooperation.

The governor’s plan should have targeted much of the $170 million set aside for raises this fiscal year and next in a salary reserve account, but instead includes two small changes that would save a combined $3.4 million, Miner said.

The first would eliminate either Lincoln’s Birthday or President’s Day as a state holiday starting next year. The second would modify one benefit offered under the worker’s compensation system.

But while the plan includes cuts that slice tens of millions of dollars from nonprofit social service agencies and other private-sector workers that contract to provide state services, public sector workers largely were ignored, he said. A more balanced approach was needed “if the governor really wanted to make a statement that she recognizes” the fiscal crisis, he added.

Rell’s budget director, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Robert L. Genuario, said the administration re-opened negotiations in late January with state employee unions and still hopes to achieve further concessions to complement the deal the governor and unions struck last April. That concession package provides roughly $300 million in annual savings both this fiscal year and next, but has been criticized as too small by some legislators from both parties.

That deal exempts most state employees from layoffs through 2010-11. In exchange, workers must forfeit one of two raises most employees receive – a cost-of-living adjustment and a step increase designed to recognize longevity – both this fiscal year and next. It also included a retirement incentive program and increased health care costs for workers.