Connecticut state workers face big cuts

March 22, 2016

Nate Moore reports on a budget battle where Democrats and Republicans are pitting service cuts against union concessions--while neither side proposes to tax the rich.

CONNECTICUT GOV. Dannel Malloy has issued layoff notices to 47,500 unionized state employees that span 32 bargaining units covered under the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC) in an effort to make up a $266 million budget shortfall.

The cuts will drastically reduce funding for social services and public education. Malloy is threatening mass layoffs in order to force his commissioners to return with ideas in the coming weeks for cutting services. Cutting services to stop layoffs, however, would still not avoid reducing the state workforce by eliminating the positions of newly hired employees in order to save $6 million.

The Republicans have countered with a proposal that they claim would allow the state to avoid layoffs entirely, but at a tremendous cost. The plan includes forcing state workers to accept two furlough days and allows the state to renegotiate state worker benefits with SEBAC that last until 2022.

Renegotiating benefits would lead to proposals to increase employee health insurance costs, eliminate longevity pay, increase worker pension contributions and reduce retirement benefits. The education cuts would include $33 million from public universities and $33 million from secondary schools, reducing funding per student by about $1,400. Additional cuts to social services would amount to around $12 million.

Connecticut Gov. Dannell Malloy
Connecticut Gov. Dannell Malloy (Jocelyn Augustino)

"Republican leaders are among those who caused the budget problem by their stubborn refusal to ask millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share," explained Southern Connecticut State University professor Cindy Stretch to the Hartford Courant.

"What they claim is a furlough day proposal is actually a Trojan Horse proposal that calls for reopening the SEBAC agreement plus pay cuts," Stretch continued, "which Republicans euphemistically call furlough days. And by offering no job security, this proposal would allow layoffs to go forward."

Neither party has considered taxing the rich to make up the budget shortfall. Malloy is going along with Republicans who claim that Connecticut is not "business-friendly," citing as evidence the recent move of General Electric (GE) headquarters to Boston. What this argument ignores, however, is the vast amount of taxable revenue that remains in Connecticut.

Furthermore, giving tax breaks to big businesses does not lead to more revenue and spending on vital services that benefit working people. For example, shortly after Boston Mayor Marty Walsh gave General Election $150 million to move its corporate headquarters, he proposed $50 million in cuts to the city's public school system.

Connecticut public-sector unions should learn from the recent walkout of Boston students that forced Walsh to reverse those cuts.

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