Labor offers optimism, but no specifics to counter layoff plan

The stage is set next week for the state employee unions to publicly settle on a path to salvage a $1.6 billion concession package–or resign themselves to more than 6,000 layoffs and spending cuts.

SEBAC, the coalition of state employee unions, announced Friday after an all-day meeting that its leaders are confident of presenting Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Tuesday with an alternative to layoffs.

But while labor leaders scrambled to salvage the deal, the Malloy administration moved forward with its own alternative to concessions: a  revised cost-cutting plan with more than 1,200 additional job cuts beyond the nearly 6,500 recommended Tuesday.

Earlier Friday, Malloy warned during an appearance on MSNBC that the legislature now has given him the means to balance the budget without the concessions. The unions need to act quickly, he said.

“There’s a warning here. Either we get our fiscal house in order and we reach agreements that allow us to do that on a short-term and long-term basis, or these cuts will be implemented, and there will be other changes made,” Malloy said.

Spokesmen for SEBAC, the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, announced Friday some possible actions ruled out by the unions, but they left until Tuesday any details about what they still are considering.

SEBAC leaders formally rejected a motion to change its bylaws in a way that would have allowed last week’s vote, in which 57 percent of participating union members favored ratification, to change the outcome.

The coalition rules require that 14 of the 15 unions favor ratification, and that the largest union, AFSCME Council 4, be among the 14 in favor.

Four of the 15 unions voted to reject, including AFSCME.

“I’m hopeful we’ll all get back to the table and the package we negotiated will in fact be approved one way or another,” Malloy said. “It’s time to look ourselves in the mirror and wakeup.”

Matt O’Connor, a spokesman for SEBAC, said the unions were encouraged that the governor was leaving the door open to additional talks, although Malloy has indicated he is willing to consider new, clarifying language, but not new terms.

Labor leaders have privately assured key legislators that a deal with be reached with Malloy, an assurance that convinced House leaders to postpone action on a bill that would have curbed some collective bargaining rights.

Roy Occhiogrosso, the governor’s senior adviser, said Malloy has not been given any such private assurances or promises. He said he was uncertain about the source of the optimism expressed by SEBAC and some legislators.

“I guess on some level, hope springs eternal,” he said.

Meanwhile the governor has his own pressing timetable to follow over the next two weeks. Though granted expanded powers to balance the budget on his own, Malloy still must report a final version for legislative review by July 15.

The administration originally challenged agency heads to consider a total of 5,466 layoffs as well as elimination of 1,000 vacant posts when they were tasked Tuesday with developing final plans, each to cover a portion of $1.6 billion in gaps created over two fiscal years by the failed concession package.

But after lawmakers balked at another component of that cost-cutting plan, the cancellation of $54.4 million in municipal aid, Malloy and his fellow Democrats in the legislative majority compromised, agreeing instead to increase layoffs by about 20 percent.

Though layoffs are expected to produce the bulk of the cost-cutting, departments also are expected to make programmatic changes to help hit the overall savings targets of $704 million in the new fiscal year and $901 million in 2012-13.

The precise number of layoffs to be executed remained undefined Friday.

Malloy’s budget director, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes advised all agency heads by memo Friday that they may submit “realistic alternative savings proposals” that could change recommended layoff levels, “but those alternatives must include savings that meet or exceed the target” assigned to each agency.

As with the first plan, the two deepest cuts, both in terms of dollars and personnel, would come from the prison system and the Department of Transportation/

The largest number of job cuts, 1,170, was recommended for the Department of Correction, which was given a $69.7 million savings target for the new fiscal year.

DOT was given the largest target at $89.6 million, with 1,067 job cuts proposed to help implement it.

Social services comprise a significant portion of the state budget, with the $4.6 billion Medicaid program alone representing nearly 23 percent of this year’s $20.14 billion budget.

Health care and human service agencies bore a large share of the reductions in the latest plan, with more nearly 1,870 job cuts and $150.6 million in savings targets assigned to Social Services, Children and Families, Developmental Disabilities, and Mental Health and Addiction Services combined this year.

Public colleges and universities also were reduced considerably. The University of Connecticut was assigned a $20.7 million cut with 348 job reductions recommended for its main campus in 2011-12 and another $11.7 million and 206 jobs for its Farmington-based health center.

And the Board of Regents for Higher Education, a new entity that contains the Connecticut State University System, the community colleges, Charter Oak State College and the Department of Higher Education, was directed to save $26.5 million this year with 535 job cuts recommended.