GOP plan counters Malloy’s changes

April 24, 2015

Article as it appeared in the REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

HARTFORD — House and Senate Republicans are proposing a two-year, $39.6 billion budget plan that would reverse many of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed spending and tax changes.

The GOP plan that was rolled out Friday morning does not call for any higher taxes, caps state bonding, and assumes nearly $500 million in labor savings and overtime reductions for the upcoming two-year budget cycle.

“The savings we find in this budget come from state employees,” said Sen. Robert J. Kane, R-Watertown, the ranking Senate Republican on the budget-writing Appropriations Committee.

Rep. Jeffrey J. Berger, D-73rd District, the House chairman of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, faulted Republicans for failing to spell out how the assumed labor savings will be achieved.

The Waterbury lawmaker said the lack of specifics creates a sizable hole in the Republican budget.

“It doesn’t balance,” Berger said. “The majority party has to be the responsible person in the room that comes up with a product that is balanced.”

House and Senate Republicans said their budget plan restores proposed cuts in Malloy’s two-year, $40 billion budget plan to social services, seniors, tourism, libraries, veterans and probate courts.

The release Friday of the “Blueprint for Prosperity” budget gave the Republican minority a jump on the two Democratic-led budget committees.

The Appropriations Committee is going to roll out its spending plan on Monday, and the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee plans to adopt a revenue package on Wednesday.

Republican leaders unveiled the GOP plan in advance of the Democrats to try to frame the upcoming budget debate and get GOP ideas out first.

“We want to start a dialogue,” said Senate Minority Leader Leonard A. Fasano, R-North Haven.

The governor’s office dismissed the Republican budget, while the Democratic leadership offered more tempered reactions to the Republican ideas.

“It’s just not serious,” said Mark Bergman, Malloy’s communications director.

Instead of making tough calls, he charged, Republicans punted, proposing a budget plan that is based on hundreds of millions of dollars in unrealistic assumptions.

HOUSE SPEAKER J. BRENDAN SHARKEY, D-HAMDEN, and House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, were more charitable than Senate President Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk.

Sharkey and Aresimowicz said Republicans deserve credit for sharing ideas instead of sniping from the sidelines. They said they expect the Appropriations Committee will incorporate some GOP ideas in the Democratic spending plan.

Duff and Looney said Republicans endorsed a number of Democratic proposals. They said the two Democratic-led budget committees will propose a two-year budget that is complete and balanced.

“The Republican alternative budget contains many of the same cost savings and reinstitution of necessary state programs that you’ll see in the Democratic budget proposal on Monday,” said Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, Senate chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee.

The Blueprint for Prosperity budget proposes to spend $19.5 billion for the upcoming 2016 fiscal year and nearly $20.1 billion in 2017 fiscal year. It anticipates surpluses of $80.3 million in the first year and $67.9 million in the second year.

The 2016 budget is $218.2 million below the state’s spending cap, and the 2017 budget is $154.6 million below the cap, according to Republicans.

The GOP plan counts on Malloy securing nearly $500 million in labor savings and overtime reductions, but largely leaves the Democratic governor to find ways to achieve them.

THE REPUBLICANS ARE PROPOSING to have Malloy find $253 million in labor savings that they say he failed to achieve when his administration and state employees negotiated a labor savings agreement in 2011.

“So, all we’re saying to the governor is, ‘You made a pledge. It was $253 million short. We’re not asking for more. We’re just saying go get what was promised,'” Fasano said.

The GOP budget only suggests options that the Democratic governor might use to achieve the targeted savings, but many of the recommendations will require the agreement of unions.

The Republican suggestions included a wage freeze in 2016, increasing pension contributions for current state and health insurance co-payments, and eliminating longevity bonuses to employees based on their length of service.

Fasano said Malloy can use the threat of layoffs to leverage concessions, as he did four years ago.

“I think the governor’s greatest tool is layoffs,” he said.

Sal Luciano, the leader of one of the state’s largest employee unions, said Republicans appear to ignore the prospect that the state’s budget outlook would be much worse if employee unions had not agreed to concessions four years ago.

“Instead of blaming dedicated public servants, it’s time to ask Connecticut’s largest corporations and wealthiest citizens like Tom Foley to help prevent devastating cuts by making a fair contribution to the state budget,” said Luciano, executive director of AFSCME Council 4.

The Blueprint for Prosperity anticipates $80 million in overtime savings in 2016 and another $140 million in 2017 fiscal year.

Republicans propose no plans for achieving these savings, but they would create a new Office of Overtime Accountability within the legislature that they say would overhaul how the state tracks and appropriates money for overtime. It would have a budget of $150,000.

“Overtime has run rampant, and everybody in this building knows that,” said Kane, referring to the state Capitol.

If nothing else, he said, the additional reporting requirements and greater scrutiny will put pressure on agencies to cut back on overtime.

“Overtime reduction was once a priority of the governor’s, but it seems to have fallen off the table to a large extent,” said Rep. Arthur J. O’Neill, R-Southbury, a member of the Appropriations Committee.

Despite the constitutional separation of powers, Kane and O’Neill said they believe the legislature can find ways to make use of its power of the purse to control overtime spending in executive branch agencies.

The Republicans are also proposing Malloy limit bonding to $1.8 billion a year for the upcoming two-year budget cycle, and then drop it down to $1.6 billion a year going forward.

The budget plan additionally recommends a 30-year, $67 billion transportation plan that Republicans said is fully funded.