Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is a man in a hurry. The General Assembly meets in special session today to patch a $700 million hole in the 2012 state budget caused by state employees unions' failure last week to ratify a concession agreement. In full giddyap mode, Mr. Malloy wants lawmakers to finish their work by tomorrow, the first day of the new fiscal year.
The only way they can do their work in one day, of course, is to give only a cursory look at Mr. Malloy's own plan to close the budget gap - which, incidentally, happens to be a pretty good plan - and quickly sign off on it or grant the governor extraordinary budget powers to do everything himself.
He wants expanded "recision" or budget modification authority that will allow his administration to make the cuts needed to balance both years of the two-year budget that takes effect Friday. He simply doesn't trust the legislature to get 'er done in any reasonable length of time if it has a chance to debate and change his plan to bridge the $700 million first-year gap.
What if the legislature doesn't grant him expanded recision authority, Mr. Malloy was asked on a conference call with journalists Wednesday?
"They [lawmakers] are gonna spend the summer here talking to lobbyists, seeing what changes the lobbyists do or don't want made," he grumped.
Anybody who has seen legislative sausage being made would have to sympathize with him.
Mr. Malloy makes a good case for getting the budget balanced quickly now that that the employee unions have failed Connecticut by denying the state negotiated labor savings of $1.6 billion over two years: The state needs to show resolve to the bond market. It needs to get its fiscal house in order with minimal delay to avoid the downgrading of its credit rating after Moody's raised questions about Connecticut's outlook this week.
In addition, Mr. Malloy contends, "every day we don't have a balanced budget" it costs an additional $1.6 million, the cost of 29 more state employees who would have to be laid off.
Legislating is a messy, time-consuming business, but one would hope the General Assembly could perform its constitutional budget duties with dispatch as a co-equal branch of government during this fiscal emergency and not cede virtually all budget-making authority to the governor.
We continue to think that the legislature should have a role greater than that of a crowd of bystanders.
But "one way or the other," Mr. Malloy said Wednesday, "we're going to get state spending into alignment with our ability to pay."
The governor's plan to close the budget deficit takes some good steps in that direction.
Layoffs are harmful to the families involved and to the state's economy in the short term. But Mr. Malloy's plan to eliminate about 1,000 currently vacant positions and lay off some 5,500 employees could be the first step in permanently reducing the size of the state workforce. That, in the long run, will be healthy.
Two other items in his plan to fix the budget will reduce costs over time:
He proposes to freeze wasteful longevity payments - giving ever-increasing checks to people twice a year just for showing up - to those now eligible for them and discontinue longevity for new employees and employees not yet eligible. Longevity would be removed as an item of negotiation in collective bargaining.
And, the governor proposes to modify the definition of base salary to exclude overtime, longevity and any fees in the calculation of pension benefits effective upon the expiration of the current pension agreement in 2017. These pension-padding extras should never have been allowed in the first place.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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