The General Assembly is poised today to grant Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s request for additional budget-cutting authority in response to a failed labor concession deal, but his proposal to curb some collective-bargaining rights for state employees faces resistance in the House.
The budget cutting authority will come with strings: The legislature intends to retain the right to review Malloy’s additional budget cuts, which would take effect automatically after a review period if lawmakers do not return for a second vote.
Rep. Toni E. Walker, D-New Haven, the co-chair of the Appropriations Committee, said there is a strong consensus for the legislature to retain the ability to shape the budget revisions after a review by her committee.
In an outline given to House Democrats, Malloy’s rescission authority would increase from 5 percent to 10 percent of agency budgets, and he could cut municipal aid by 2 percent. The Appropriations Committee would have from July 15 to Aug. 15 to hold hearings on any adjustments.
But the wildcard Malloy introduced Tuesday–legislation that would limit sick days and redefine how pensions are calculated–took leaders and rank-and-file legislators by surprise.
At midday, with the House and Senate Democratic majorities beginning closed-door caucuses, the Senate was preparing its own bill making at least some of the labor changes sought by Malloy, a sign of the resistance in the House.
By voting on the expanded budget authority and the labor changes separately, disagreement between the House and Senate over the labor issues would not jeopardize the budget revisions.
A routine vote over the rules for the special session erupted into a debate over the scope of the session in the House, with Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, sharply questioning Majority Leader J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, over whether collective-bargaining laws would be germane.
Sharkey declined to say.
Outside the House, Cafero later called the proposals to change collective bargaining rules “a sham.”
House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, refused to comment in any detail on the governor’s labor proposals, which some lawmakers interpreted as an other nudge for the unions to reconsider the concessions. The unions announced Monday they will try to salvage the deal, without saying how.
“We left here believing that was going to take place,” Donovan said of the concessions, valued by the administration as worth $1.6 billion over two years. “So we certainly encourage the unions to come to an agreement.”
The fiscal year begins July 1, but there is a budget already signed into law, albeit one with a large deficiency. There is time to salvage the concessions, if the unions can figure how to do, before Malloy’s plan to balance the budget with 5,500 layoffs fully takes hold.
With notice requirements, most of the layoffs could not occur until late summer, giving the administration and labor a narrow window to avert mass layoffs and other budget cuts.
Labor had a small presence at the state Capitol today. Fewer than a dozen union members wearing green AFSCME t-shirts stood outside the House, then sat in the gallery.
A no-vote by AFSCME Council 4, which represents 15,600 state employees, was pivotal in rejecting the ratification of the labor deal.
Sal Luciano, the executive director of Council 4, said they were present to urge legislators to avoid layoffs. Most of those who came to talk to legislators had voted to ratify the agreement, he said.
Nedra Pierce, an AFSCME member with 4½ years experience at Department of Social Services, said she voted to ratify. She described herself as a single mom with three children in college.
A layoff, she said, would be devastating.
Bethy Guiles-Smith, a member of an AFSCME clerical bargaining unit that voted to ratify the agreement, wore a sign that read, “I voted yes for concessions.”
She said she wanted to remind legislators that a majority of her immediate co-workers voted yes.