Republicans Seek Wage Freeze To Restore Budget Cuts [Courant]

April 24, 2015

Article as it appeared in the Hartford Courant
Republican legislators called for restoring money for social services, senior citizens and probate courts Friday and will help pay for it by enacting a one-year wage freeze for all state employees, reducing overtime and eliminating the recent salary increases for the governor’s staff.

The plan also calls for an additional $253 million in labor savings per year that Republicans and the legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal office said the state has failed to reach in a previous deal with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. That number could be attained by extending a wage freeze beyond the first year, forcing state employees to pay higher co-pays for their prescription drugs, and eliminating the so-called “longevity payments” that veteran employees currently receive.

Senate Republican leader Len Fasano of North Haven said that Republicans and Democrats need to work together to balance the two-year, $40 billion budget instead of hurling insults and ratcheting up the rhetoric.

“We shouldn’t be throwing hand grenades at each other on this issue,” Fasano said. “It makes good headlines, but it doesn’t do anything to move the state forward. … We’re not Washington. We’ve worked together all the time on bills. This is no different.”

State union leaders, Democrats, and the governor did not endorse the calls for more contributions from state employees.

“Without our most recent changes in wages, pension and health care, Connecticut’s budget deficit would be far worse,” said Sal Luciano, executive director of AFSCME, Council 4. “Connecticut’s working families need a commitment to job creation and an investment in schools, health care, roads, bridges and communities.”

Luciano added, “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.”

The Republicans offered the budget in the days before the Democratic-controlled budget-writing committee will unveil its recommendations on the two-year, $40 billion budget.

The proposal rejects many of Malloy’s fiscal plans, including forcing towns to pay more for the resident state troopers and cutting the regional fire training schools. It also restores funding for the Governor’s Horse Guard and the funeral Honor Guard for veterans.

The detailed, 43-page, line-by-line budget called for eliminating the corporate tax surcharge in the 2017 fiscal year, eliminates the $250 business entity tax that is paid every two years, and phases out the state income tax on pensions.

The Republican plan says there will be no wage increases in 2016 for state managers, along with cuts in overtime and consolidation of the permanent commissions, including the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women. The commission consolidation has been offered multiple times and rejected in the past.

The governor’s communications director, Mark Bergman, issued a statement that thanked Republicans for their efforts.

“Unfortunately, instead of making the difficult decisions to put Connecticut on a strong and brighter path, the Republicans punted on the tough calls, putting forward a budget that is based on hundreds of millions of dollars in unrealistic assumptions,” Bergman said. “Republicans offer Connecticut a false choice — the only way that this budget could be implemented would be to either illegally break state contracts or lay off thousands of hard-working, middle-class families, stopping our economic recovery dead in its tracks. It’s just not serious.”

Lawmakers are seeking reforms in the sometimes-criticized Board of Regents for Higher Education, saying that individual colleges should “operate independently for budgeting purposes.”

The funding increases include reinstating the current level of funding for the burial of indigent individuals, as well as restoring money for the Youth Services Prevention Grant, 47 neighborhood youth centers, and the popular Connecticut Youth Employment Program that has been strongly supported by many Democrats on the appropriations committee.

“This is an extremely challenging budget year, and the Republicans deserve credit for sharing their ideas instead of simply sniping from the sidelines,” said House Speaker Brenda Sharkey of Hamden. “Some of the minority’s proposed adjustments will be incorporated in the full appropriations committee budget, so I would expect a bipartisan vote as well.”