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Underscoring fiscal crisis: Legislature considers furloughs; judiciary cancels raises

Underscoring fiscal crisis: Legislature considers furloughs; judiciary cancels raises

CT Mirror, March 3, 2016

By: Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, Mark Pazniokas and Keith M. Phaneuf

Underscoring the fiscal crisis facing Connecticut, the Judicial Department canceled employee raises Thursday and the General Assembly opened talks about the furloughs of legislative staff, a rollback of its staff raises, and a rare rejection of a negotiated contract.

The Senate Democratic majority has begun discussions with the Office of Legislative Management about furloughs and a reversal of a July cost-of-living raise for legislative staff, said Adam Joseph, a spokesman. Either option would have to be done in cooperation with the other three legislative caucuses.

The Supreme Court decided to cancel 3 percent raises for about 700 non-union judicial staff set to take effect Friday, saving $1 million in this fiscal year and $2.9 million next year. Judges, whose salaries are set by the legislature, do not have any pay increases pending.

Senate leaders also informed senators to clear their schedules for Friday and Monday for a likely vote to reject a contract granting raises to non-teaching staff at the University of Connecticut.

Facing third difficult budget back to top

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a two-term Democrat facing his third difficult budget debate in six years, has put considerable pressure on the General Assembly to reject the pending labor contract for the nearly 1,900 UConn staff.

That contract would guarantee staff receive between 3 percent and 4.5 percent pay raises in each of the next five school years. A portion of those increases are linked to the requirement that staff move from a work week of 35 hours to 40 hours. The agreement also would allow staff to work less than half time for up to three years and still count those years toward pension calculations.

The employees also would still receive their normal vacation and holiday pay. The raises would cost $93.9 million over the next five years, nonpartisan fiscal analysts estimate. Senate leaders said Wednesday they see the raises as unaffordable. The contract needs to be rejected by March 9 by either chamber of the General Assembly or it is automatically deemed approved.

"We are afraid that, if approved, the contract will lead to massive layoffs and painful tuition increases, forcing talented Connecticut students out of state," said Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney of New Haven and Majority Leader Bob Duff of Norwalk in a joint statement.

The canceled pay raises for 700 non-union Judicial Branch employees for the current fiscal year are the third set of raises to be rescinded in the last two weeks. The governor canceled raises for nearly 2,000 executive branch non-union employees earlier this week and the state's largest public college system -- Connecticut State Colleges and Universities -- deferred the raises for its 300 non-union staff the week prior.

"The ongoing and, in fact, worsening fiscal crisis in the state is the cause of the cancelation," Judge Patrick L. Carroll III, the chief court administrator, wrote Judicial Branch employees Thursday. "These are extraordinarily difficult fiscal times and it is certain that even harder times lay ahead." Carroll said he and Chief Justice Chase Rogers appreciate the labors of the court system's staff. "I assure you that we would have moved forward with the planned increase if it was at all possible," he wrote.