GOP leader decries House push for a Monday vote on union deal
While legislative voting on the proposed union concessions deal could begin Monday, the top Republican in the Senate charged House Democratic leadership with irresponsibly rushing action on a crucial agreement.
Legislators must be at the Capitol on Monday for a constitutionally mandated, one-day session to consider overriding measures vetoed this year by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
“We will finalize decisions on any potential veto override votes at our caucus meeting Monday, as well as discuss the labor concession agreement, which we expect to vote on later that day,” House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, wrote in a statement.
But while Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, also scheduled a vote, he’s waiting until July 31 to accommodate lawmakers awaiting more information on the deal.
Looney met Thursday with Democratic Sens. Joan Hartley of Waterbury, Paul Doyle of Wethersfield and Gayle Slossberg of Milford, three moderates who’ve questioned whether the package is in the state’s best fiscal interests.
“This week, I met with three members of our caucus to discuss the SEBAC (State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition) agreement,” Looney wrote in a statement. “They requested and I agreed to provide some additional time for them to analyze the agreement’s long-term impact. That said, it is my intention to hold a Senate vote on the SEBAC agreement on July 31st.”
Unions voted overwhelmingly over the past two weeks to ratify the concessions, which the Malloy administration says would save $1.57 billion over this fiscal year and next combined, closing almost one-third of the $5.1 billion deficit in the next biennial budget.
Most workers agreed to a three-year wage freeze, three furlough days, higher health care costs and pension contributions and new restrictions on retirement benefits.
Republican legislators and some moderate Democrats say they fear the savings are not sufficient given what the state must provide in return: four years of layoff protection and a five-year extension of the benefits contract from 2022 through 2027.
Senate Republican leader Len Fasano of North Haven, one of the chief critics of the deal, said Friday he fears lawmakers are being rushed into ratifying a deal they haven’t had time to examine.
Fasano asked Malloy for the proposed concessions agreement earlier this summer, but the administration did not provide the documents until after union ratification votes were released on Tuesday.
Fasano noted Friday that nonpartisan fiscal and policy analysts for the legislature still haven’t had time to provide lawmakers with detailed reports on the impacts of the wage and benefit agreements.
“It is beyond radically irresponsible to try to call all wage contracts for a vote without having any financial analysis of what the contracts will actually cost,” he said, referring to Aresimowicz’s plans for a possible vote on Monday. “The fact that the speaker is pushing for a vote on over 30 contracts without an analysis from the governor’s budget office or from nonpartisan staff speaks to someone who is treading the edge of a conflict. … You could not be more irresponsible or tone deaf to the fact that we are in a fiscal crisis and we shouldn’t be approving any contracts we’ve received less than 24 hours ago with zero economic analysis.”
Aresimowicz, who is an education coordinator with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, has been advised by the Office of State Ethics that nothing in the state ethics code bars him from continuing in that job while serving as speaker.
“Senator Fasano should know that our rules require a fiscal note on any bill or resolution that comes before us, and we expect that to all be in place Monday morning so all House members will have the opportunity to review the analysis prior to any vote,” Aresimowicz said.
“This is just another distraction from the fact that the agreement saves taxpayers $1.5 billion over the next two years and $24 billion over 20 years. Senator Fasano has been clear that he doesn’t like the negotiated savings and won’t support it. That’s fine, but this is exactly the opportunistic partisan politics that people are sick of,” Aresimowicz said.
Fasano said Friday his office’s review of one provision in the agreement concluded it could severely restrict the state’s ability to modify pension and health care benefits in the future.
Fasano said he believes the language would block the state from making administrative changes that could save money, even if benefits are not substantially changed, until 2027.
And he said he also is worried it could prevent governors and legislatures — at least until the deal would expire 10 years from now — from ordering benefit reductions or other changes that only would affect future state employees hired after 2027.
Malloy called Fasano’s assertion “utterly and fantastically ridiculous” and added that the proposed deal — for the first time in state history — adjusts pension benefits in the event pension investments fail to reach targeted levels.
The provision mirrors language built into the 2011 concessions agreement the governor reached with unions. It was developed at that time when some labor groups were worried their health care plans would be rolled into a larger, proposed state network.
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