Malloy: No concessions would mean ‘nasty and ugly’ budget

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Friday he has begun work on an “ugly” alternative budget in case talks with state employees do no not yield significant savings in the next month.

“I am preparing recommendations with respect to what that would look like,” Malloy said. “I hope we don’t have to go there. It would be nasty and ugly.”

Speaking to reporters at a press conference, Malloy declined to assess the state of talks with unionized state employees, from whom he is seeking $1 billion in concessions and savings in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

“They are not over,” he said of the talks. “So I am happy.”

Malloy conceded for the first time that his goal of obtaining legislative approval on a budget in May relies on the labor talks, and that he does not yet have $1 billion in alternative cuts.

“I think if we have fruitful discussions, there is no reason why we can’t have a budget by May 6,” Malloy said. “If we don’t have fruitful discussions, then we have to go in a different track.”

Malloy did not give a deadline for the talks, but he pointedly noted that the Appropriations Committee has until April 27 to vote on the budget.

“So, it’s a matter of weeks, not months,” he said.

Earlier, Malloy was blunt during an interview on WNPR’s “Where We Live” in describing the consequences of failing to reach an agreement with the unions.

“You want me to cut the budget more? I’ll cut the budget more.  You want me to eliminate more programs I’ll do that.  And in the absence of reaching a restructuring agreement we’ll lay off lots of people. I don’t want to do any of those things,” Malloy said. “Having thousands and thousands of state employees become unemployed in the midst of a downturn in the economy where we can reasonably predict that Connecticut will be one of the last states to recover from makes no sense, but if it’s the only option, it’s the only option to pursue.”

Mark Ojakian, the governor’s chief negotiator, said he is optimistic about the talks, though he ackowledged time is growing tight.

“Every day is important. I view my discussions as critical in terms of a time line,” he said.

Ojakian said the talks — technically, they are not negotiations, since the unions and the state have not formally repopened a contract — take place daily, in either face-to-face meetings or phone calls. The tone is constructive, he said.

“The conversations I am having with the union leaders and with some of their locals have been very respectful , very honest, very frank, very candid. And I’m hopeful that all of us continuing down that road will be able to get to where we need to get. That’s my premise,” Ojakian said.

He declined to comment on a report that correction officers, who refused to join other unions in making  concessions two years ago, already have indicated they are opposed to givebacks.

Malloy spoke to reporters after the monthly meeting of the Bond Commission.  Observing a tradition formalized by Gov. M. Jodi Rell, Malloy conducts a public press conference after commission meetings in the atrium of the Legislative Office Building.

They draw enough of a crowd that Malloy repeated reporters’ questions over a public address system for the benefit of the audience.

In response to a question, Malloy said he opposes the creation of a new department of early childhood education being pushed by a Democratic state senator.

“Let me assure you that local governments, for instance don’t go out and create specialized educational entities,” Malloy said. “They have boards of education. We need to hold ourselves to the same standard to make sure our equivalent Board of Education is getting the job done.”

Malloy’s comments at a press conference appear to be a blow to a proposal by Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, an early childhood specialist who is co-chairwoman of the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee.

But Bye, who met recently with Malloy about her idea for a department to promote early childhood education, said the new agency would bring disparate programs for young children under one roof. The concept, she said, does not run counter to Malloy’s agency consolidation plans.

“My argument is this is consolidation,” Bye said.

The governor has proposed consolidating 87 agencies into 51, but some of the proposals have generated legislative opposition in the past two weeks.

“One of the problems we have in Connecticut, is we have too many people doing the same thing,” Malloy said. “And part of what we’re trying to do in consolidation is trying to understand that positions ultimately that can be eliminated or not filled.”