Minority Republicans in the state House of Representatives called Thursday for the cancellation of tens of millions of dollars in bonuses due next month to senior state employees.

House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero, R-Norwalk, said the legislature and Gov. M. Jodi Rell should immediately repeal the law giving longevity bonuses to employees with 10 years or more on the job.

And though state government can’t unilaterally cancel such bonuses for unionized state employees, Cafero added, Rell should try to negotiate a deal with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition to remove them.

“It’s something we cannot afford to do and it needs to be eliminated,” he said, calling the annual bonuses that range from $2,500 to $26,000 a “classic example” of an expense that needs to be cut immediately. “The clock is ticking.”

This fiscal year’s $18.64 billion budget is running $518.4 million in the red, and the nonpartisan legislative Office of Fiscal Analysis is projecting shortfalls of $726 million and $3.88 billion for 2010-11 and 2011-12, respectively.

The longevity pay system rewards workers with bonuses ranging from just under 1 percent of annual pay to 3.5 percent for workers with 25 years or more of seniority. The bonuses are paid in equal installments in October and April.

Bonuses last year totaled $43 million. According to the House Republican Caucus, about $14 million of those funds went to roughly 35,000 unionized workers. The remaining $28 million went to nearly 4,000 non-union personnel. Despite their much smaller numbers, the non-union employees receive the bulk of the bonus dollars because many hold upper-level management posts with larger salaries.

Rell proposed legislation last year that would have eliminated the longevity pay system for all new state employees and for all non-union personnel that had not yet reached their 10-year anniversary mark. The Democrat-controlled General Assembly did not act on the Republican governor’s bill.

Cafero said his caucus is not trying to make senior state workers scapegoats for the state’s fiscal crisis. But he noted that the governor’s most recent deficit-mitigation plan includes a $45 million cut to town aid and restoration of the gross revenues tax on hospitals. “Before we do things like that, isn’t this one of the things we should take care first?” he said.

Rell’s press office cited the governor’s 2009 proposal in a written statement but declined to comment on whether she would seek longevity pay concessions from state employee unions.

The governor has said she hopes to reopen talks with unions about wage- and benefit-concessions, similar to those negotiated in 2009. Labor leaders, though, have said they are interested in discussing new proposals to make government more cost-efficient, but not in further reductions in workers’ compensation or benefits.

“This discussion seems to be missing the point,” SEBAC and Connecticut State Employees Association spokesman Matt O’Connor said.

One of the unions’ most frequent proposals, he added, calls for reductions to an excessive number of top level managers in the Executive Branch. “We keep asking the question about the number of managers,” he said. “That’s the real problem that we think needs to be addressed.”

House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, didn’t comment on the prospects of an across-the-board suspension of longevity pay for all staff, but issued a brief statement regarding manager’s pay.

“We asked the Governor to find $22.5 million in management reductions in the biennial budget,” Donovan said. “The longevity payments to management employees would seem to be a good place to find some of those savings.”

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Keith M. PhaneufState Budget Reporter

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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