Republicans again demand Lamont explain hundreds of millions in budget savings

June 14, 2019

Republicans again demand Gov. Ned Lamont explain hundreds of millions in budget savings

By Shannon Larson

Hartford Courant

For the third time in two weeks, Senate Republican leader Len Fasano Thursday demanded answers from Gov. Ned Lamont over hundreds of millions of dollars of savings from state employees built into the still unsigned state budget bill.

With several other Republicans by his side, Fasano debated the merits of the two-year, $43 billion spending plan adopted by the legislature last week.

The budget assumes $450 million in savings resulting from changes to state employee benefits and the refinancing of pension payments.

Fasano raised his concern that the hundreds of millions in assumed savings is based on a non-existent deal with state union employees, who have not voted on the changes.

“This budget is unconstitutional — period,” he said.

“If the governor comes to me as a union guy, I’m going to drag my feet,” Fasano said, on agreeing to the proposed changes.

He called on the governor to veto the budget.

Fasano raised the same questions Tuesday, as well as last week, prior to legislators approving the budget in both chambers.

But both Lamont and the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition have rebutted his claims.

“We take issue with Senator Fasano’s claim that it is imprudent or improper for the budget to assume pension funding savings,” Daniel Livingston, chief negotiator for SEBAC, said in a written statement. “While we have made clear that we are not open to a penny of further concessions beyond the $24 billion in savings we are already providing through the SEBAC 2017 agreement, we have indicated our willingness to consider ‘win-win’ changes, including the pension funding proposal included in the budget.”

Livingston added: “We don’t consider it unreasonable for the budget to assume the parties will agree to this change.”

Lamont said it was his goal to ensure that both teacher and state employee pensions are solvent for the long term.

“I’m ready to sign this budget,” he said. “It’s a good budget.”

Lamont’s budget director, Melissa McCaw, disputed Fasano’s repeated assertions, and said the budget process is operating in the same fashion that it has in the past, not unconstitutionally, as Fasano alleges.

Several components of the budget do not rely on union approval, like the teachers’ pension reamortization, McCaw said.

She said the only aspect of the assumed savings that requires negotiations is the state employee pension reamortization, which appears likely to be agreed to by union leadership.

“We don’t see this as being problematic to achieve,” she said.