Attorney General Opinion Validates Connecticut Senate Republican Budget

July 27, 2017

Fasano 2017-07-27 Press Avail AG Ruling (21)

Hartford Senate Republican President Pro Tempore Len Fasano (R-North Haven) reaffirmed that the alternative labor savings plan offered by Connecticut Senate Republican Caucus as part of their state budget proposal is a legal and viable option that would not be subject to a legal challenge based on an opinion released today by the Attorney General.

“All state senators must look at the SEBAC deal objectively before voting on it and understand that there is another viable option on the table that can achieve a greater level of savings without tying the hands of lawmakers in future years. The Senate Republican plan can achieve more savings in both the short and long term and is a completely legal option based on the opinion of the Attorney General released today. While the governor’s deal offers some laudable savings measures, it also includes new costs and would severely limit the state’s ability to streamline government over the next 10 years. This means in tough financial times passing the governor’s deal as is all but guarantees tax increases, more burdens on towns and cities, and deep social service cuts. On the other hand, the Senate Republican alternative labor savings proposal would not tie the hands of future lawmakers and would not be subject to any legal challenge according to the Attorney General. The opinion from the Attorney General confirms what we have been saying all along – that as long as lawmakers do not impair existing contracts, we can make statutory changes to achieve labor savings. This means there’s not even a shadow of a doubt that the Senate Republican budget can be implemented because we do not touch any current contracts. In addition, while the Senate Republican proposal does not seek to change any current contracts, the Attorney General’s opinion goes further stating that changing existing contracts is possible when the state is facing a financial emergency and has already tried repeated tax increases and other savings measures.”

Supporters of the governor’s deal have suggested that Republican proposals would not withstand court challenges and are unrealistic. This is inaccurate, as confirmed by the Attorney General today. The ruling confirms that the legislature can make structural changes through legislative action so long as we respect current contracts in place – which the Senate Republican proposal does. It is well established that state legislatures may set pension and other benefits in state statute.  Indeed, Connecticut is one of only four states that does not legislate pension benefits in statute.

The Attorney General’s Opinion makes two major points:

  • The AG Opinion confirms that the Senate Republican budget – which does NOT make unilateral changes to existing union contracts – would not be subject to contract clause claims; and
  • Legislative proposals designed to address a “fiscal emergency” serve a “legitimate public purpose”.  Thus, the legislature MAY adopt wage and benefit changes to existing contracts where, as here, the state faces a “severe and spiraling budget deficit” (as in the Buffalo Teachers case) and has already imposed major tax increase, reduction in work force through attrition and other measures which have failed to resolve the systemic budget deficits and crises.