By SUSAN HAIGH Associated Press
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut’s tentative agreement with state employee union leaders that would save $1.6 billion on labor costs is not expected to be ratified until after the General Assembly adjourns June 8.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget director and chief labor negotiator said Friday that the voting process will take several weeks because the 15 unions and 34 bargaining units that represent 45,000 workers are allowed varying time frames to review the proposed changes to health and retirement benefits, as well as wages.
Also, the final details of the official “Tentative Agreement” that will be presented to rank-and-file members are still being drafted.
The protracted ratification process puts Malloy and the General Assembly in a time crunch. Legislators are expecting a plan from the Democratic governor by May 31 to fully balance the state’s new, two-year $40.1 billion budget. That plan assumes $2 billion in labor savings, short of the figure in the tentative agreement.
Benjamin Barnes, Malloy’s budget director, is to come up with a plan to cover the remaining $400 million difference.
“We are aware of the timing issues and there are several alternatives (legislative leaders) are considering,” Barnes told reporters during a briefing session about the union deal.
Senate President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said the Democratic-controlled legislature could still vote on Malloy’s plan to cover the $400 million gap before the session ends, even if the tentative agreement has not yet been ratified. He said they could make it contingent upon the agreement’s ratification.
“Obviously, if they ratify it prior to the end of session, then we can approve that,” Williams said. “Or, if the ratification is still ongoing before the end of the session, we could approve the mitigation package to take care of the balance, the shortfall, between the concessions and the deficit. And as part of that package, say that we approve the concessions when they are ratified by the bargaining units.”
Minority Republican leaders, who question whether the projected $1.6 billion in savings is realistic, criticized the majority Democrats for potentially adjourning the regular legislative session without a fully-funded budget in place.
“We will adjourn this session without having a balanced budget, without knowing, I would argue (how to cover) $2 billion worth of a hole over a two-year budget. That is a scary thought indeed,” said House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk.
Cafero said he was under the impression that the ratification process was going to be faster. The tentative deal was announced May 13. Union leaders this week began the process of educating members about the proposal.
“I would have hoped that part of the deal would be: you got to get back to us by May 31 so this legislature can enact the very savings we’ve just negotiated,” Cafero said.
Mark Ojakian, Malloy’s lead labor negotiator, said the unions have not yet been able to present many of the specific details of the agreement reached last week to their members. For example, he said they’re still putting together a chart that outlines insurance premiums for workers who retire early.
Also, they’re still finishing the details of a new labor-management committee that is supposed to help the Malloy administration come up with ideas for state savings and efficiencies.
Ojakian said the official “Tentative Agreement” will likely be ready next week.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)