Talks continue as Malloy shares options for 4,742 layoffs

The Malloy administration gave legislative leaders options for 4,742 layoffs and sweeping spending cuts as negotiations continued with state employees over the governor’s demand for $1 billion in concessions and other labor savings. Talks ended Friday at 4 p.m. and are to resume Saturday.

“Plans are to continue over the weekend until we have an agreement,” said Matt O’Connor, a spokesman for the coalition of 15 state employee unions negotiating with the administration.

The Office of Policy and Management has prepared $1.67 billion in options, from which $1 billion in cuts could be chosen if the labor talks end without a package of savings sought by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. The administration stressed Friday evening that the options are a “framework.”

“The framework remains. The details could and probably would change,” said Roy Occhiogrosso, senior adviser to the governor. Of the list of positions slated for elimination, he added, “That is a first draft. There easily could be positions added or taken off.”

Occhiogrosso’s late-in-the-day comments are a reflection that Malloy cannot entirely dictate a list of layoffs, especially if he wants to eliminate entire agencies. The creation and elimination of agencies requires legislative consent.

Until Friday, the administration had used round numbers when discussing possible layoffs. Malloy told a business group recently that the failure to obtain concessions would trigger 5,000 layoffs. On Wednesday, he only would say the number would be at least 4,000.

By offering a specific number, the administration ran the risk of suggesting a finished plan.

OPM says the layoffs would save $455 million in the fiscal year beginning July 1, and Malloy and the legislature would choose the remaining $545 million in cuts from a long menu of options, including deep reductions in Medicaid and state aid to municipalities.

“These options are unattractive policy choices, and I offer them with a sense of reluctance and even regret,” Benjamin Barnes, the OPM secretary, said Friday in a letter to Malloy. He called them “a worst-case outcome.”

Because the $1.2 billion in options outside the layoffs amount to twice the $545 million in necessary cuts, the documents circulated Friday do not give a precise picture of what would happen if the biennial budget approved this week is reopened with a $1 billion hole in each of the next two years.

While the options reflect what House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, says truly would be “ugly” choices, they also appear calculated to shock. If enacted, the potential cuts in municipal aid would force their own round of layoffs in cities and towns.

O’Connor said the administration’s options do not change the dynamics of the labor talks, nor would he describe the governor’s actions as a negotiating ploy.

“There already was a tremendous amount of pressure,” he said. “He is taking steps for whatever is the outcome [of the talks.] That’s his responsibility.”

The options include at least $456 million in cuts for local aid: $269.5 million in education aid, $94.5 million in reimbursements for tax-exempt state property and hospitals, $61.7 million in grants now funded by Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan gambling revenues, and $30 million for town road aid. Also on the cut list is  a $23.5 million grant program for tax relief for elderly renters.

Other options would eliminate or nearly eliminate funding for the staffs of entire agencies, including the Connecticut State Library, the State Department of Education, the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities and the Agriculture Experiment Station.

Malloy presented the options to Democratic leaders Thursday and to Republican leaders today.

The administration is making the options public a day after deciding to delay the issuance of layoff notices until next week, essentially giving negotiators the weekend to reach a tentative deal.

On Friday morning, union negotiators briefed leaders of 15 unions that represent 34 bargaining units on the status of the talks, then resumed the negotiations at noon at the Office of Policy and Management in Hartford.

Occhiogrosso said the calendar is pushing the preparation of the contingency plans. The incomplete budget approved this week sets a deadline of May 31 to either implement labor savings or enact additional cuts.

Two Republican legislators, Sen. Leonard Suzio of Meriden and Rep. Chris Coutu of Norwich, joined a conservative group in suing the state in Superior Court, claiming that the approval of the unfinished budget was unconstitutional.

Tom Scott, a former Republican state senator and founder of the Roger Sherman Liberty Center, said he hopes the courts will set a precedent that the legislature can not pass unbalanced budgets.

“This is a longstanding unconstitutional habit,” Scott said.

The administration said the suit was unfounded.

“We’ve reviewed the matter and are confident that it is fully compliant with the Connecticut constitution and that the courts and won’t interfere with the duly adopted budget of the State of Connecticut,” said Colleen Flanagan, the communication director for Malloy.

If Malloy and the legislature meet the self-imposed May 31 deadline, the suit also is likely to be moot before a court could take action.

Jacqueline Rabe contributed to this report.