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Union Concessions Could Prevent Some – Not All – Proposed Budget Cuts

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Governor Dan Malloy signs the state budget in 2011. (Matt Dwyer/WTIC Photo)

Governor Dan Malloy signs the state budget in 2011. (Matt Dwyer/WTIC Photo)

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By SUSAN HAIGH and STEPHEN DOCKERY, Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Tuesday that most of the deep budget cuts he presented to lawmakers last week can be avoided if a labor savings agreement is ultimately ratified by unionized state employees.

But some of the proposed spending reductions, the Democratic governor said, will remain in place.

“Will all of the things disappear?” Malloy asked. “No, because not all of the things are necessarily tied (to the labor agreement).”

Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s senior adviser, said some savings proposals identified by agency commissioners “are just smart ideas.” Also, he said some of the cuts included in the budget-balancing plan unveiled on Friday are proposals Malloy planned to address later in his term.

“Certainly, some of those might remain,” said Occhiogrosso. “If an agreement is reached and if an agreement is ratified, in some senses you might end up with the best of both worlds.

One example of a budget change Malloy supports and that’s been expedited, he said, is the planned closure of the 600-bed Bergin Correctional Institution in Mansfield. Occhiogrosso said the closure process was sped up after the rank-and-file union members last month did not ratify a labor savings and concessions agreement that was supposed to save $1.6 billion in the two-year, $40.1 billion state budget. Malloy needed the savings to balance the two-year budget that took effect on July 1.

Malloy told reporters at an event in Torrington that he’s “very hopeful” that an agreement can be reached soon with labor leaders and ultimately ratified by the rank-and-file members, avoiding the necessity for additional budget cuts.

His comments came the day after the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, which represents 15 state worker unions, voted to change its bylaws to make it easier to ratify a labor savings and concessions agreement.

Last month, not enough of the rank-and-file members voted in favor of the deal to ratify it, even though 57 percent of those who cast ballots supported the deal, because of a high threshold that’s included in their old rules.

Mark Ojakian, Malloy’s labor negotiator, was expected to meet with union leaders on Tuesday to discuss concerns expressed by union members over the original deal and what needs to be clarified before another vote can be held.

Malloy said he doesn’t “think there’s any reason that we couldn’t have a quick agreement in 24, 48 or some number of hours as opposed to days or weeks.” He reiterated that his administration is not renegotiating the agreement with SEBAC.

“Leaders too are hopeful we can get there quickly,” said SEBAC spokesman Matt O’Connor. “Every day that passes without an agreement makes a tough job tougher.”

There are several outstanding issues that need to be settled, including what changes will be made to the original agreement, how new pay raises that take effect this month will be handled and how quickly the unions can approve a deal.

Malloy and the union leaders are under a tight time constraint. Many workers have already received two-week layoff notices that should take effect soon. Malloy said more layoff notices are still expected to be issued as closed-door talks continue with SEBAC.

Occhiogrosso said, “in all likelihood,” all the rank-and-file layoff notices will be rescinded if a deal is finalized. He said there will be some job cuts that remain, with or without a labor agreement. He pointed to many reductions of managers and job cuts due to agency consolidations and downsizing of state government.

Mental health workers at Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown are planning a rally on Wednesday to speak out against proposed cuts to detoxification and rehabilitation services that are included in Malloy’s budget-balancing plan. Last week, 115 workers received pink slips.

“Ending these services may be expedient in the short run but will cost far more than the cost of providing treatment in terms of health, crime-related costs, domestic violence and loss of productivity,” said Dr. Lisa Berzins, a psychologist for the male rehabilitation program where 60 beds would be eliminated.

It’s unclear whether those cuts will be rolled back if a labor agreement is ratified.

Patricia Ciccone, superintendent of the Connecticut Technical High School System, said Tuesday that while she is hopeful that wide-ranging cuts to her schools can be avoided if there’s a ratified labor savings agreement, she does not yet know what to tell the flood of alarmed parents, students and others calling her office.

“Whether that will translate to rescinding some of these reductions they have asked for, I would think it would, but I’m not sure. Yes, I do worry about that,” she said.
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Dockery reported from Torrington. Associated Press Writer Stephanie Reitz contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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