Legislature can wait before deciding whether to cut its own staff

While the Executive and Judicial branches announced plans last week to eliminate over 6,660 jobs in response to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget plan, the Legislative Branch was quiet about how it would meet $22 million in savings targets over this fiscal year and next.

But the head of the Office of Legislative Management said Monday that the legislature–unlike the other branches–has several unique characteristics that provide a little more fiscal flexibility as officials watch over the coming weeks to see if state employee unions will revive a failed concession agreement.

“We don’t have the same urgency” as the other branches to unveil a budget-balancing plan right now, OLM Executive Director D’Ann Mazzocca. “But we are always working to save money. We have various possibilities.”

To help replace the $1.6 billion in savings originally planned to come from the concession deal rejected by unions last month, Malloy charged the Legislative Branch last week with saving $9 million this fiscal year and another $13 million in 2012-13.

And though the administration doesn’t have the authority to lay off legislative staff, Malloy’s budget agency estimated the cut would remove funding for 50 of the 579 positions funded in the branch’s budget this year, about 8.6 percent.

But Mazzocca noted that total includes both permanent and temporary staff, and most of the latter won’t be needed until the next regular legislative staff begins in early February.

Also, the Legislative Branch, unlike executive and judicial, contains no unionized employees. That means all raises, both cost of living adjustments and merit increases, are discretionary.

Mazzocca said the branch has not authorized raises of any kind so far this year, but about $1.2 million has been included in the year’s budget to cover that expense. Those funds could be reserved to help meet the $9 million savings target this year.

Mazzocca also said the branch has been effective in recent years in cutting energy costs, and though she didn’t provide an estimate, she said it would be possible to increase savings further in that area this fiscal year.

Though she did not disclose any specifics, Mazzocca said the branch has prepared more detailed plans to achieve the full savings target if a concession agreement is not achieved. Those plans could include job cuts, she said. The OLM director also did not say how long the Legislative Branch could wait for developments on the labor front before ordering more stringent cost-saving measures.

The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition reportedly was meeting Monday to consider changes to coalition bylaws to make it easier to adopt a concession deal.

The package rejected in mid-June, which called for a two-year wage freeze, an employee wellness program, new health care costs and new restrictions on pension and other retirement benefits, was supported by 11 out of 15 unions representing 57 percent of SEBAC membership. But current coalition bylaws require 14 out of 15 unions and 80 percent of members to support a concession package to achieve ratification.

Malloy unveiled one of the largest budget-cutting plans in recent history on Friday to replace $701 million in lost savings this year and $901 million in 2012-13.

The governor’s plan targeted more than 3,600 Executive Branch jobs for layoffs while eliminating funding for 6,060 branch jobs in total. It carved deeply into programs affecting social services, health care, transportation, criminal justice and education while closing armories, prisons, adult education centers, motor vehicles and social services branch offices and group homes and respite centers for the developmentally disabled.

The Judicial Branch was tasked with achieving $86.2 million in savings over this fiscal year and next combined. Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers announced a plan that laid off 452 branch employees, eliminated 602 jobs in total, and closed courts in Enfield, Danbury, Torrington and Vernon.