Effects of Connecticut’s worsening budget woes taking shape

By SUSAN HAIGH
Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Real fallout from Connecticut’s worsening budget deficit problem has begun to materialize, with negotiated pay raises for certain state workers and planned payments to hospitals put on hold this week.

House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said Friday he was notified by the union representing nearly 1,900 non-teachers at the University of Connecticut it was temporarily withdrawing its labor contract from legislative consideration and will potentially renegotiate the deal. The move came days after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy called on lawmakers to reject the agreement because it’s unaffordable.

Senate Democrats also said the contract “doesn’t reflect our economic reality” and could lead to massive layoffs and tuition increases.

“Clearly I think they heard from Democrats in both houses as to the concerns that were raised,” said Sharkey, who predicted the contract would have been rejected by the Senate or House of Representatives. He said he wished Malloy had informed lawmakers earlier about the contract’s ramifications.

New estimates from the legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis and the governor’s Office of Policy and Management that determined the contract would cost $93.9 million over five years. UConn analysts had estimated $55.9 million. It comes as the current $20 billion year budget is more than $220 million in deficit, while the following fiscal year is about $900 million in the red.

It’s unclear when the UConn contract will eventually be acted upon. Union President Kathleen Sanner said a technical error must be corrected and members will then have to decide how to proceed.

“I won’t speculate on our members’ choice regarding their future, but our priorities remain the same. We want to do what is right for our members, the university we care about and our students,” she said. A spokeswoman for UConn said the agreement was the product of good-faith negotiations and the university and union felt it was fair and responsible

Also this week, Malloy’s administration informed the state’s hospitals they likely won’t receive about $150 million in payments, due to the budget challenges. The Connecticut Hospital Association said it was outraged by the action, adding how this and past cuts total about $300 million.

Sharkey said Friday he disagrees with the administration’s decision and said the funds should be released as soon as possible.

“It was not what we negotiated. This was something we fought very hard for as legislators, to ensure that these funds were available to our hospitals,” he said. “Withholding them is unacceptable.”