Legislators Starting To Face 'Grim Reality' House Speaker Says

Legislators Starting To Face 'Grim Reality' House Speaker Says

Hartford Courant, May 4, 2017

By Christopher Keating

With the state budget deficit exploding over the past week, the need for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to reach $700 million in labor savings next year with state employees has become even more important in recent days.

While labor and management have not reached any final agreements after months of confidential talks, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz expressed strong optimism Wednesday that the unions will reach a deal on concessions to help close the projected budget gap that is now more than $2 billion for the next fiscal year.

"I'm very confident,'' Aresimowicz said. "We all know what 4,200 layoffs would do here in the state of Connecticut. It would decimate our services, and they know that, too. ... I'm confident, in the end, as they've done before, they're going to do whatever they can do to help us with this problem, and take a financial hit for it.''

Without a deal, Malloy has threatened 4,200 layoffs in more than 50 departments and agencies that would save an estimated $400 million per year. About 1,100 layoff notices could go out in the coming weeks if no agreements are reached.

Dan Livingston, the chief negotiator for the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, has repeatedly declined to comment about the details of the confidential talks.

The labor savings were included in budgets presented by Malloy, Democrats, and Republicans.

"That $700 million figure was central to all of our proposed budgets ... and that piece is even more essential now than it was before because, as the overall deficit is larger, that piece of it is absolutely crucial,'' said Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney of New Haven. "It's absolutely essential for us to get that $700 million number in order to piece things together.''

Solving crisis becoming harder back to top

With the state income tax coming in $450 million below expectations, Aresimowicz said that solving the fiscal crisis becomes harder every day.

Aresimowicz has been holding caucuses with fellow legislators to find the best ways for stemming the red ink before the new fiscal year starts on July 1. But many officials say there are two bad choices: cutting programs and raising taxes.

Known as an optimist, Aresimowicz spoke soberly Wednesday and used the word "crisis'' to explain the difficulties facing the state.

"The reality about this budget crisis – and let's call it a crisis – is we are going to undo 20 years of policy in a matter of days when it comes to settling this budget,'' Aresimowicz told reporters. "Priorities that we've had as a state of Connecticut are going to be shifted to what we think we have to provide to the citizens, not necessarily what we want to provide. It's difficult. It's hard. There's a certain amount of almost depression that is now setting in that we're having to do that. It's very difficult.''

As the budget deficit gets worse, the decisions get tougher, he said. Legislators are now starting to face that grim reality, he said.

"Yes, we did raise taxes, and maybe it didn't necessarily have the effect that we were hoping for. We're still in this situation," Aresimowicz said, referring to major tax hikes in 2011 and 2015. "We're going to have to cut even more. Those are real people's lives that are affected by those cuts."

"It's not what any of us signed up for when we decided to run for public office," he said. "We did it because we wanted to help people. ... We're hurting people, and it's hard. We see the faces on the other side of those dollar amounts, and it's not a place that any of us want to be."