By SUSAN HAIGH, Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Friday told several hundred union leaders, many of whom helped to get him elected, that he understands their unhappiness with his proposed budget but reminded them he supports unions and their collective bargaining rights, unlike some of his counterparts in other states.
“When we allude to what you did for me, let me remind you that you’re a lot better off with me in this room than you would have been under any other circumstances,” said Malloy, the state’s first Democratic governor in two decades.
“And I’m doing the best I can.”
Friday’s event was the latest in a series of meetings Malloy is holding to discuss his two-year, $40 million budget and answer questions about the state’s financial problems, including a looming $3.5 billion deficit in the new fiscal year that begins July 1.
Malloy was greeted with applause and standing ovations from the union members, but also criticism for his plan to seek $2 billion in labor savings, including concessions, over two years from unionized state employees. Connecticut
AFL-CIO President John Olsen told the governor that he didn’t believe Malloy’s call of “shared sacrifice” to cover the deficit was being fairly shared. There are about 43,000 unionized state employees.
He and other union members urged Malloy to instead raise taxes on wealthy citizens, a move the governor said could encourage those with means, whose personal income taxes were recently raised by one percent, to leave the state.
“Fair, to me, is not looking for a third of the budget to be solved on the backs of the people who work for the state of Connecticut,” Olsen told the governor. Closed-door talks between Malloy’s administration and the state employee unions began on Wednesday.
“We want to work with you to solve these problems, but what we have to look at is . there are people that have made a lot of money. We have waited 20 years to start to get someone to hold them accountable,” Olsen said. “We believe that’s you.”
Malloy, who often touted his mother’s history as a labor organizer during the campaign, acknowledged Friday it was hard for him to appear before the group of public and private sector union officials because he knew many in the crowd disagree with his proposals. But Malloy said it is not always possible to agree.
As in other meetings, Malloy recounted the challenges he’s facing, including a 20-year agreement signed in 1997 with state employee unions over their health and pension benefits, and how he has limited tools to save on employment costs other than massive layoffs, which he reiterated he wants to avoid.
Malloy also explained his budgetary process and the rationale for seeking the savings from labor, raising taxes for $1.5 billion in the first year and cutting spending by nearly $800,000.
“I’m trying to lay out a long-term plan for job growth. I’m trying to get around the corner in a terrible economy. I’m asking the people of Connecticut for shared sacrifice .. In some senses I’m asking your public members for even more,” he said. “But I guarantee you that if we get by this, and we restructure, we cut, if we put ourselves on the road to sustainability, in the long run we will be better off.”
Even if the labor leaders continue to disagree with his approach, Malloy urged the group to back him on the things they can support. He said he wants to maintain good relations with organized labor.
“Join me on the portions of the road that you can join me on, because the options are New Jersey, or Wisconsin or Ohio or Indiana,” Malloy said, referring to states where governors are at odds with public employee unions. “And understand, in many ways, I represent the difference.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)