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State Facing 4,700 Layoffs If No Deal Is Reached With Unions

Christopher Keating

May 07, 2011

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy raised the stakes Friday with the release of a "Plan B'' budget plan that includes 4,700 layoffs of state employees and more than $550 million in additional spending cuts that could include the shutdown of some state offices and cutbacks in all three branches of government.

The cuts would be made only if the state fails to reach a deal with the state-employee unions on $1 billion a year in savings and concessions over the next two years. The Malloy administration and the unions are scheduled to continue negotiations through the Mother's Day weekend, but there is no hard-and-fast deadline if progress is being made.

"I'm not going to put a time limit on it,'' said Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy's senior adviser and chief spokesman. "It's a fluid situation. It's a sensitive situation.''

Because the layoffs would provide about $455 million in savings, Malloy and the legislature would need to make about $545 million in additional cuts to balance the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

The reductions would be made from a list of $1.2 billion in cost-cutting options, including potentially reducing aid to cities and towns by about $600 million a year for educational cost-sharing, school choice and other programs. The options also include closing another prison to save more than $15 million a year and eliminating all funding for the state library in Hartford. In addition, the state could potentially sell the state police helicopter, close seven highway rest areas and shutter four workers' compensation district offices. The list of proposed cuts is a menu of possible reductions that Malloy would choose and then propose to the legislature, rather than being the actual plan.

"It is a framework,'' Occhiogrosso said.

Under the law passed this week as part of the two-year, $40.2 billion budget, the cuts would require approval by the Democratic-controlled legislature before the end of the legislative session June 8.

In closed-door talks that have lasted for two months, the unions and Malloy's negotiators have been talking about a variety of options that include salary freezes, changes in health and pension plans, and an increase in unpaid furlough days.

Targeted Programs

Overall, the options include $1.67 billion in cuts and layoffs to fill a hole of $1 billion, including $455 million that would be saved from the 4,742 layoffs of both unionized and nonunion workers. The layoffs would include nearly 4,200 workers in the executive branch agencies, 470 in the judicial branch and 80 in the legislative branch.

The layoffs represent about 10 percent of the state's 46,290 full-time workers paid with state funds. The totals do not include part-time workers or those paid with federal funds.

If necessary, the layoffs would be made at more than 40 departments and agencies, ranging from the state prisons to the University of Connecticut.

The spending options include eliminating both Governor's Horse Guards, in Avon and Newtown, as well as closing the workers' compensation district offices in Middletown, Norwich, New Haven and Stamford.

The options also include eliminating 25 positions by attrition in the Department of Public Safety to save $2 million a year, as well as eliminating police and fire training services to save more than $8 million over two years.

All funding for the Office of the Child Advocate, which serves as a watchdog over the Department of Children and Families, would be eliminated to save about $1.4 million over two years. The New Britain motor vehicles office would be closed, and staffing at the New Britain-based Department of Public Utility Control would drop by 27 percent.

The state would save more than $300,000 over two years in operating and insurance costs if Malloy and the legislature decide to sell the state police helicopter.

Although the agencies would have an average cutback of 10 percent of the workforce, the numbers vary widely from agency to agency. At the Department of Revenue Services, where the state is trying to collect as much in taxes as possible, only 1.6 percent of the workforce would be laid off. At the Department of Developmental Services, which is one of the largest agencies with 3,617 employees, only 1.5 percent would be laid off.

The highest number of layoffs would come at the state Department of Education, which would lose 1,413 of its 1,706 employees or 82.8 percent. The plans also include eliminating all 80 positions at the Hartford-based Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities to save more than $6.3 million in the next fiscal year.

The other agencies with large layoffs would be 471 jobs in higher education, including the Connecticut State University System; 319 at the Department of Correction; 285 at the University of Connecticut; 277 at the Department of Transportation; and 188 at the newly formed Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

In the governor's office, three of the authorized 27 positions would be eliminated. In addition, 12 of the 148 positions in the governor's budget office a separate entity would be eliminated.

Although the correction department has a relatively large number, with 319 layoffs, it represents about 5 percent of the department's 6,493 employees.

At the Department of Children and Families, a long-troubled agency that has often been in the headlines with problems overseeing troubled children, 3.2 percent of the agency's 3,284 workers would be laid off.

Malloy's budget director, Ben Barnes, wrote in a one-page letter to Malloy that he was hoping to avoid cuts.

"These options are unattractive policy choices, and I offer them with a sense of reluctance and even regret,'' Barnes wrote. "Clearly, implementing these reductions would be a worst-case outcome painful for our citizens, our employees, and those who rely on state services. It is my fervent hope that an agreement will be reached in short order, obviating the need for either personnel reductions or additional programmatic cuts.''

Lawsuit Challenges Budget

In a related matter, a conservative group and several Republican lawmakers filed a legal challenge to the newly adopted state budget, alleging that its assumption of $2 billion of yet-to-be-determined savings from the unions violates the Connecticut constitution.

"In 1992, the people of Connecticut overwhelmingly voted for [a] balanced budget amendment as a protection against the kind of shenanigans and abuse we saw this week at the state Capitol,'' said Tom Scott, a former senator who founded the Roger Sherman Liberty Center, the conservative think tank behind the lawsuit.

The budget, approved earlier this week and signed by Malloy on Wednesday, is "a dirty deal ... a raw deal,'' Scott said.

Colleen Flanagan, a spokeswoman for Malloy, expressed confidence that the spending package would withstand the legal challenge.

"We researched the matter when the Republicans made this claim,'' she said Friday. "We've reviewed the matter and are confident that it is fully compliant with the Connecticut Constitution and that the courts won't interfere with the duly adopted budget of the state of Connecticut.''

Courant staff writer Daniela Altimari contributed to this story.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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