GOP, Dems both claim the middle for their visions of a budget

CtMirror.org file photo

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz next to the Republican leader of the Senate, Len Fasano

While unionized state employees vote this month on proposed concessions, legislative leaders with opposing views on how to cut labor costs both say they’re gaining support for a new state budget based on their respective strategies.

Senate Republican leader Len Fasano of North Haven, buoyed by statements from conservative Democrats that the concessions deal doesn’t save enough, said he’s optimistic a bipartisan coalition can be build around his caucus’s budget.

The Senate GOP plan would legislate changes to worker benefits and collective bargaining rules without granting the layoff protection and other guarantees in the concessions deal negotiated by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and union leaders.

This would allow the state to close a major deficit over this fiscal year and next while mitigating cuts to local aid and employing minimal tax hikes.

But House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said the Democrat-controlled House is rallying around a budget which assumes workers and the legislature both will accept the concessions deal.

Those savings, coupled with increases in sales and hotel taxes, would be used to mitigate reductions to municipal grants and social services.

Fasano predicted that as the concessions plan gets more scrutiny, Democratic legislators who initially had some concerns about the deal are going to agree with him that it is not sufficient.

“When they find out more about this deal in the coming weeks, they are going to find out that their gut reaction is going to be grounded in fundamental facts,” Fasano said.

And while labor is a traditional ally of the Democrats, the Senate GOP leader predicted that won’t be enough to make all Democrats back this concessions deal.

“There are some issues where perhaps . . . you hold your nose and vote accordingly. This is not one of those issues.”

The administration projects the package would save $1.57 billion over the next two fiscal years, and $24.1 billion over the next 20 years. Workers would agree to wage freezes, furlough days, and higher pension contributions and healthcare costs. It also would create a hybrid pension/defined-contribution plan for future employees.

The deal also would benefit employees, primarily by prohibiting most layoffs for four years and by extending until 2027 health care, pension and other retirement benefits otherwise set to expire in 2022. One of the objections by GOP lawmakers and some Democrats: Even with these concessions, Connecticut still wouldn’t save enough to cover all benefits promised to present-day workers, requiring future generations of taxpayers to cover some of that cost.

Several Democrats in the House and Senate told their leadership in June that they agree with Republicans that the concessions are insufficient.

And Fasano predicted more Democrats will oppose the concessions plan as it receives further scrutiny.

“I have even more serious questions about the labor agreement now” than when Malloy and the union leaders released the framework more than two months ago, Fasano said.

For example, changes to rules governing when disabled workers could receive Social Security and pension disability benefits, Fasano said, “could cost the state a lot of money.”

But Malloy, Aresimowicz, and fellow Democrat Martin M. Looney of New Haven, president pro tem of the Senate, have said legislating changes now — while union members are casting ballots on concessions and after months of negotiations initiated by the Malloy administration — would be a textbook example of the state bargaining in bad faith.

“Bottom line — this agreement would deliver historic structural changes and significant savings in both the short- and long-term,” Malloy spokeswoman Kelly Donnelly said. “And more importantly, we arrived at these changes at the negotiating table, bargaining in good faith with state employees. To change the rules and to move the goal post on them now would be unfair and undermine the months of work put into this agreement.”

CTMirror.org file photo

Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney

“It is certainly appropriate to have questions regarding a labor agreement of this size,” Looney said. “However, what Senator Fasano and the Senate Republicans are proposing would fundamentally and dramatically damage collective bargaining and the rights of hard-working people.”

Aresimowicz went a step further, saying Fasano continues to tout legislatively-mandated labor savings in hopes of infuriating state workers into rejecting the concessions deal.

“I think it is a purposeful effort to put doubts in their mind” about state government’s willingness to bargain in good faith, the speaker said, “so Senator Fasano can get the outcome he wants.”

The speaker also said, “I am very confident we can get the votes in the House for a budget that includes the concessions. I don’t need Len Fasano and his coalition of the unrealistic.”

Unions have said they tentatively plan to tally all concessions votes by July 17, and Aresmowicz has asked House members to be prepared to come into session the next day.

Fasano said critics are not trying to sway the concessions vote one way or another. They simply have legitimate concerns about the plan.

“There is no way Joe is going to have the votes for his budget on July 18,” Fasano said.

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