The Connecticut Senate has given final legislative approval to a state employee concession deal, aimed at reducing the projected $5 billion state budget deficit by $1.5 billion over the next two years.
Democrats say there will be significant savings, and that the deal is a necessary precursor to a full budget deal.
Initially three Democratic senators had refused to say they would vote for the deal, but after receiving additional assurances, they did support it. Senators Joan Hartley, Gayle Slossberg, and Paul Doyle issued a list of 12 systemic reforms they want to see included in upcoming budget negotiations.
“I’m very pleased that we achieved Democratic unity on this proposal here today,” Democratic Senate President Martin Looney told reporters outside the chamber at the Capitol in Hartford Monday night. “And it now helps set us up for the remainder of what will be very difficult budget negotiations, to address the remaining $3.5 billion for our biennium.”
But all 18 Republican senators voted against the deal on Monday night. The caucus believes extending the contract for 10 years until 2027 gives too much away to the unions.
Republican leader Len Fasano said the SEBAC deal doesn’t solve the state’s long-term fiscal problems, and it ties the hands of future administrations in achieving more labor savings.
“I just think this could turn out to be a devastating day for the state of Connecticut in terms of how we get our fiscal structure in order,” he said. “I just don’t see how a plan they can come up with can change the state structurally speaking.”
Lieutenant Gov. Nancy Wyman, who is president of the Senate, cast a tie-breaking vote in favor of the deal, which was negotiated between Governor Dannel Malloy’s administration and union leaders.
Malloy lost no time in blasting the debate, saying Republicans misrepresented the deal.
“Clearly what they decided to do was to ignore the truth, or the reality, and it appeared that most of them were speaking from talking points that somebody had written for them, who quite frankly was totally unfamiliar with the document itself – and clearly most of them didn’t read it,” Malloy told reporters.
The governor held his news conference at Platt High School in Meriden, in part to highlight the difficulties that the lack of a budget is causing school districts.
Meriden Superintendent Mark Benigni said he's having to make tough decisions.
"In eight years, we haven’t let go of a staff member because of budget," he said. "And for the first time, I’m really, truly concerned that we’re going to be letting go of people, our staff, mid-year. And that won’t just mean that people are left without a job. That means that our students are left without teachers."
The budget is now close to two months overdue. There’s no word yet from legislative leaders on when negotiations will continue, or when they intend to vote on a proposal, which must now address a $3.5 billion gap.