Barnes ‘confident’ savings goal will be met, but details uncertain
The administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy acknowledged today that the ratification Thursday of a labor concession-and-savings deal leaves unresolved myriad details about the budget and size of state government.
A variety of service reductions, some hastily imposed after the initial labor agreement was rejected in June, will be evaluated as the administration is on the hook for delivering $1.6 billion in projected labor savings over two years.
“We are going to go through each of the proposed service reductions, and we’ve already begun that process,” said Benjamin Barnes, who oversees the budget as the secretary of the Office of Policy and Management.
The closing of Department of Motor Vehicle branches will be abandoned, since most of the savings would have come from the elimination of workers, whose jobs are now protected for four years.
“So we won’t be closing those facilities. There is no need to do that. It would just needlessly inconvenience the public,” Barnes said. But there yet may be adjustments in hours and services.
Two seasonal ferries on the Connecticut River will be preserved, but Barnes said he still would like to see that heavily-subsidized service come closer to being self-supported.
Once-threatened commuter rail service to New York through New Haven on Shoreline East also will be saved.
“I can tell you the cutback in Shoreline East is widely regard by all the transit professionals at DOT as counterproductive, that the best solution at Shoreline East is to increase ridership and to do that by maintaining appropriate service levels,” he said.
The agreement takes effect Sept. 1, which is when about 200 employees who already have lost their jobs will begin to be called back and about 3,000 other layoff notices will be formally rescinded, with two possible exceptions.
Nearly two dozen correction supervisors to receive layoff notices have no job protection, since their union rejected the deal, which provides four years of job security.
And the Connecticut State Police Union will not finish its voting until 4:30 p.m. today. If it rejects ratification, the Malloy Administration could go ahead with plans to lay off 56 members of the current training troop, and a new class of 80 troopers could be canceled.
Technically, the legislature has until Aug. 31 to accept or reject the deal. But the failure to act also is considered approval, and legislative leaders have no plans to call in members for what would be an overwhelming vote in favor.
House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, said he would like to see a debate on the agreement, saying it would allow legislators a forum to pose quesions about whether the agreement’s estimated savings are realistic.
Cafero said Malloy’s statement it is his responsibility to make the numbers work is insufficient.
“I have to remind the governor, it’s not all about him, because if he’s not able to achieve the savings, someone’s got to pay the bill, and he ain’t the guy who has to pay it,” Cafero said. “It’s the taxpayers, who have already been hit up.”
Malloy has ruled out any further tax increase to balance the budget.
Despite doubts raised by the legislature’s budget office, Barnes said he is 100 percent confident that the deal will yield $1.6 billion: $700 million in savings in the fiscal year that began July 1 and $900 million the following year.
The Office of Fiscal Analysis has said they can verify only a portion of the savings.
“I’ve given them everything I have. Everything I have has left me confident in our ability to meet those targets,” Barnes said. “Their lack of confidence is something you’d have to talk to them about.”
One of the elements of the labor deal is a commitment to savings $180 million through labor-management committees that have been likened to employee suggestion boxes.
How much of that can be realized, especially since the fiscal year already has begun?
“All of it,” Barnes said. “First of all, it’s not an employee suggestion box, it’s labor management savings.”
“We have an entire budget office that has been spending the last several months scouring the state budget” for savings, he said.
He described some as “no-brainers,” such as reducing contracted security and cleaning services at state buildings, projected to save $1 million.
“There are some more challenging items, like fare increases, like changes in how we reimburse providers under Medicaid,” he said.
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