Negotiators quit for the night without concession agreement

Negotiators for state employees and the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy quit for the night late Wednesday without a concession deal that would halt the issuance of more than 4,700 layoff notices. Talks resume Thursday.

“Both sides are continuing to work hard,” said Roy Occhiogrosso, senior adviser to the governor. “These are tough issues.”

Leaders of the 15 unions that comprise SEBAC, the State Employees Bargaining Agents Coalition, had stood by at a union hall in Hartford, ready to evaluate any offers or counter offers by the administration. Allies of labor at the state Capitol said they expected a deal, but none was forthcoming.

Neither side would say if an agreement was close.

Malloy, who has demanded $1 billion in concessions and labor savings from the unions, ordered his administration Tuesday to begin issuing layoff notices as a contingency.

“Our goal is to avert 4,700 layoffs, which would be a disaster for Connecticut,” said Larry Dorman, a spokesman for SEBAC.

If a tentative agreement is reached, SEBAC must then obtain ratification from its members, some of whom complained to Malloy during a town-hall listening tour that they resented being hit twice, once by his tax increases and then by a demand for concessions.

The General Assembly passed and Malloy signed a $40.1 billion biennial budget a week ago that raises a broad array of taxes by $1.4 billion and relies on $1 billion in labor savings in each of the next two years. Without a deal for the savings, the budget is incomplete.

Improving revenue estimates have lessened pressure on the talks to produce a full $1 billion in savings, but Malloy has yet to publicly change his savings target. Each side has abided by a tight news blackout on the talks.

Since signing the budget a week ago, Malloy has tried to increase pressure on labor, first by circulating a list of more than $1.6 billion in optional spending cuts, then by beginning to issue layoff notices Tuesday.

The optional cuts–$455 million in layoffs, plus $1.2 billion in other spending reductions–had its desired effect, drawing howls from municipal leaders and other constituency groups about what many termed “the Plan B budget.”

But Plan B was a misnomer. The list of options was a menu of potential choices, not a plan for budget revisions, and legislators in both parties said many of the options, including deep cuts in aid to municipalities, have no chance of passage.

The options included largely defunding the state’s vocation schools, slashing the Department of Environmental Protection budget by 60 percent, and eliminating funding for the town road aid program.

“A lot of it is intended to increase pressure to get a concession plan accepted by SEBAC negotiators,” said Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, R-Fairfield.

Since municipalities have set their budget and tax levels for coming fiscal year, deep cuts in local aid likely would force the layoffs of local workers, many belonging to the same unions now negotiating with Malloy.

James Finley, the executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said municipal officials had no choice but to quickly speak out against the optional cuts.

“You can’t take anything for granted in this budget year,” Finley said.