Connecticut public employee unions struggle to fend off fiscal austerity

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July 22, 2011

By David Godow

Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, after pushing through an extensive set of tax increases in April over the objections of the Republican minority, has set his sights on an arguably more fearsome foe: the state's public employee unions.

After months of negotiations and the endorsement of union leaders, state employees rejected Malloy's plan to trim the state's personnel budget as part of his plan to close the state's $3.3 billion budget deficit for the coming fiscal year. Though the agreement garnered the support of roughly 60 percent of state workers and 13 of the 15 unions concerned approved the plan, collective bargaining rules require the support of 14 to secure an agreement. The cuts in question? A two-year wage freeze for employees and cuts in health and pension benefits totaling $1 billion in savings for the state government.

The failure of Malloy's proposal among the rank-and-file of two unions may have put thousands of state jobs in jeopardy. The governor and his supporters have repeatedly threatened unions with over 4,700 layoffs if their demands for changes in compensation are not met. According to Malloy's office, making good on that threat would save the state $455 million, which he would then supplement with an additional $545 million in other cuts to match the $1 billion his compensation scheme would save. Malloy acknowledges that such substantial job losses could be "devastating" to the state's economy but argues they are the only reasonable way to balance the state's budget. Other cuts included in the "Plan B" scheme include eliminating funding for the State Child Advocate's office, the closure of regional DMV offices, and the loss of almost 1,400 jobs in the state's Department of Education.

The matter may soon come to a head, with the governor's team promising to execute layoffs within the next two weeks if a final agreement isn't reached.

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