Budget Negotiations Begin, But There’s No Labor Agreement Yet
HARTFORD, CT — It’s taking Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and his staff some time to digest three new budget proposals, two from Republicans and one from Democrats.
Following an hour long meeting with legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle Wednesday Malloy said he would offer the three caucuses his feedback by the end of the week.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on the governor’s discussions with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition. The governor’s budget has assumed $700 million in labor savings in the first year and $856 million in labor savings in the second year of the budget. The two Republican budget proposals expect even more savings from labor.
Malloy said there are some “outstanding issues” with labor negotiations. He said that’s not to say they can’t be resolved, but they’re “substantial.”
Without an agreement, there’s a large hole in everyone’s budget proposal.
“It’s hard to move to a solution without any understanding of a labor agreement,” Malloy said.
Even after an agreement is reached, union leadership would still need to vote on opening up the health and pension portion of the state employees agreement with the state before it goes to rank-and-file union members for a vote. The voting process once it gets to the rank-and-file union members could take between two and three weeks.
That means it’s unlikely there will be a budget in place that includes the labor savings before June 7, which is the end of the legislative session.
The Democratic budget proposal, which spends more than Malloy’s revised budget, would legalize marijuana and expand casino gaming.
Malloy said the legislature has the ability to control the casino question if there are votes there, but on the issue of legalizing marijuana the governor believes it’s more speculative.
“There’s no immediate amount of money to be had with respect to marijuana,” Malloy said.
The Democratic budget estimates the state would realize $60 million in 2018 and $100 million in 2019 from the proposal.
None of the budgets would raise sales or income taxes to help raise revenue to close the budget gap, which has many progressives scratching their heads.
“Restoring pieces of the safety net is important, but this proposal is still a far cry from a fair budget that will grow Connecticut’s economy and middle class,” AFL-CIO President Lori Pelletier said about the revised Democratic budget proposal.
“We need elected officials that have the courage to close a budget deficit by not going after vital programs and frontline public service workers,” Pelletier said. “We need our elected leaders to have the courage to close the deficit by addressing our uneven tax burden, which disproportionately puts the burden on working families.”
Pelletier said Malloy’s budget proposal wasn’t much better.
“Gov. Malloy has doubled down on an austerity budget plan that deepens cuts to programs for the state’s most vulnerable, reduces transparency by eliminating the State Contracting Standards Board, and potentially risks public safety with the elimination of funding for fire training schools and deferring a new class of state troopers,” Pelletier said. “On top of this, the state is laying off frontline public service workers despite the workforce already being cut to the bone.”
Lucy Potter, an attorney with Greater Hartford Legal Aid, said the most Draconian cut in Malloy’s revised budget is the elimination of the State Administered General Assistance program, which provides at the most $219 per month to about 7,000 extremely poor residents.
The budget estimates eliminating the program would save $18 million in the first year and about $20 million in the second year of the biennium. Neither the Democratic or two Republican proposals eliminated the program.
Potter said eliminating this program for disabled individuals who have under $200 in a bank account, and are living in homeless shelters or on a relative’s’ couch is “outrageous.”
If this program is eliminated, “you might as well hang up a shingle because you’re no longer a government,” Potter said.
However, since 2015’s tax increase lawmakers and Malloy have resisted any large tax sales or income tax increases to balance the budget.
Lindsay Farrell, executive director of the Connecticut Working Families Party, said any budget that doesn’t consider raising taxes on the wealthy is not responsible or sustainable.
“Any budget proposal that doesn’t obligate our state’s highest earners to contribute their fair share of the burden is unsustainable,” Farrell said. “We will be back to the drawing board soon if we continue to perpetuate the conditions that allow large corporations and the finance industry to take advantage of Connecticut’s fiscal climate.”
Farrell said the Republican proposal which also doesn’t seek any large tax increases is “disingenuous.”
“Connecticut residents know that these harsh cuts bring pain to our working families all the same, and trying to balance our state’s budget without any revenue solutions is simply unrealistic,” she added.