Connecticut governor sets stage for possible state layoffs

By SUSAN HAIGH
Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration is officially notifying state employee union leaders that job cuts may be coming, but a top Republican leader questioned Friday whether layoffs are necessary.

The head of the Office of Policy and Management’s labor relations unit sent a letter this week to seven leaders of unions representing state workers, informing them that new organizational plans for state agencies, crafted to address Malloy’s proposed budget changes, “may include reductions in force.” The letter was released publicly on Friday.

“We anticipate that there will be labor force impacts resulting from such organizational changes,” wrote Lisa Grasso Egan, the state’s undersecretary for labor relations, to the labor leaders who represent the bulk of unionized state workers.

The Democratic governor has been warning repeatedly that job reductions and state employee layoffs are likely considering Connecticut continues to face budget deficit problems. The current fiscal year is at least $220 million in deficit, while the new year beginning July 1 is projected to be about $900 million in the red. The budget is about $20 billion a year.

On Tuesday, Malloy offered up about $128.6 million worth of ideas to address part of the current fiscal year deficit. The list included an “expedited reduction of the state workforce” that would save $6 million. He said that should not come as a surprise to anyone.

“Months and months ago I said we needed to reduce the workforce by 500 to 600 people,” he said. “Clearly that number has gotten larger.”

Malloy’s budget director has said the governor’s budget proposal for the new fiscal year could result in thousands of job reductions. It’s unclear how many of those might be from layoffs.

Union members have balked at the threat of job cuts.

“Laying off thousands of state employees not only denies people the essential services they need; it damages Connecticut’s economy,” said Merisa Williams, a secretary at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury.

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, suggested Friday there are small changes unions could agree to, such as furloughs, that could help to avoid state employee layoffs. Fasano said only two furlough days would be needed to avoid Malloy’s proposed $6 million in jobs cuts for the current fiscal year. He said it ultimately would save the state $8 million if all union workers agreed to the proposal.

“To maintain this savings for next year, unions could avoid layoffs entirely if they agree to come back to the table to look at small increases in their health premiums and prescription drug co-pays, among other changes,” Fasano said.

Christopher McClure, a spokesman for Malloy, said it’s a “false choice” for Fasano to claim layoffs can be avoided by reopening the pension and benefits agreement the state previously reached with state employee unions and negotiate furloughs, premium increases and other changes.

“Unless we want to raise taxes, reducing the size of state government is a difficult but necessary part of living within our means,” he said.

Malloy has asked the Democratic and Republican leaders of the General Assembly to return Monday with ideas for slashing the current year budget.