Calling it a “historic agreement” that would save Connecticut taxpayers an estimated $21.5 billion over 20 years, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Friday afternoon that his administration had reached a deal with state employee union leaders that would avert layoffs over the next four years and almost fill the $2 billion hole in the coming biennium budget.
However, the governor declined to release the details of the agreement, citing the need for union leaders to first introduce the plan to rank and file members, and many questions still remained after Malloy announced the agreement to reporters at a press conference at the Capitol in Hartford.
“This is the most significant agreement with state employees in Connecticut history, not just because it solves a short-term problem – but because it produces the kind of long-term, structural reform we – Connecticut’s residents, elected leaders, and our state’s workforce – so desperately need if we are to again grow, produce new jobs, and prosper together,” Malloy said.
approved by the General Assembly last week calls for $2 billion in concessions from the state's more than 46,000 unionized employees, although as negotiations approached a May 31 deadline with no resolution in sight, Malloy instructed the Office of Policy and Management to begin notifyingif an agreement could not be reached. Malloy also began to organize a “Plan B” budget that would have drastically cut additional state services, including aid to municipalities, and likely resulted in more layoffs.
Malloy said Friday that the agreement, if ratified by the state’s various labor unions, would negate much of what was called for under his “Plan B” budget, although an additional $400 million in savings would still need to be found to balance the upcoming budget.
Malloy said those savings would come from “a mix of spending cuts and existing budgeted revenue.” When asked, Malloy said that further cuts to municipal aid would be “one of my least favorite things,” although the governor did not specifically rule that option out.
Malloy said the savings with unions would be realized in the areas of healthcare, pension benefits and wages, although they did not contain furlough days or a reduction in the state's 40-hour workweek.
“This means we’ve achieved these savings without reducing the government’s ability to serve its constituents, and without reducing employee’s productivity,” Malloy said.
Larry Dorman, a spokesman for the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, which represents the state’s 15 unionized employee bargaining units, declined to discuss specifics of the deal, but said that it would prove a benefit to both state workers and Connecticut taxpayers.
“I think it’s indicative of our willingness to work in good faith and try and provide solutions,” Dorman said.
Dorman said at least 13 of the SEBAC’s 15 unions would have to ratify the agreement for it to take affect, which he expected to take several weeks since the details of the agreement needed to be explained to more than 46,000 individual employees and then voted on.
When asked how the governor could state that the agreement would result in $20.5 billion in savings over 20 years when the state’s current contract with its employee unions would expire long before then, Mark Ojakian, deputy secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, who handled the negotiations with the unions, replied that the agreement set state government on course for “very substantial long-term savings.”
“You’ll be able to see that when we are able to disclose all the details that these are real structural changes,” Ojakian said.
Although they said they were as much in the dark about the agreement as anyone else, the state’s Republican leaders expressed concern over the deal Friday because it binds the state to its current workforce levels over at least the next four years.
“If our economy continues to decline even further, we have no ability to downsize, or ‘right-size,’ our state government,” said State Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney.
Malloy hailed the agreement as a revitalization of state government.
“Over the next few years, I intend to reduce the number of state employees, but rather than doing that by layoffs, we will do it by attrition, and by eliminating managerial positions,” Malloy said. “And we will make the state workforce more efficient by making smart investments in technology. We will give our state employees the tools they need to succeed.”
He also noted that the agreement was reached on Friday the 13th.
“So much for Friday the 13th being an lucky day,” the governor said.