Connecticut’s survival needs new direction

Republicans may not have created the fiscal mess our state is facing, but we are ready to fix it.

Our state needs to move in a new direction, which is why we have released a detailed state budget proposal to propel Connecticut forward. This is not about politics. It is about our state’s survival.

Senate Republicans’ no-new-tax state budget makes the tough choices to cut spending, streamline government, provide more funding for education through a new funding formula, reduce taxes on retirees, and make necessary changes to state employee benefits — all while protecting core services. It has been revised to include broad ideas offered by Democrats, and we are committed to continuing our work to unite all lawmakers around our goal to adopt a budget that implements needed changes in the coming weeks.

In addition to spending cuts, tax reductions, and structural changes to government, our budget recognizes that state employee benefits must also be a component to putting our state back on the road to prosperity. State employees do a great job providing services throughout Connecticut. But we can no longer afford current benefits, which vastly exceed those provided to other union workers, including municipal employees, nurses, teachers, firefighters, and police. State employees pay only 0% to 2% into their pensions, have zero health care deductibles, and still receive longevity payments and guaranteed raises. It’s a benefits package no other union employee could ever dream of. By making necessary adjustments to these benefits, we can create stability, protect state employees from inevitable layoffs that would occur without concessions, and increase investments in our communities to create opportunities and jobs for all people, including union workers. We also can protect funding for social services for the most vulnerable and core functions of government such as education and transportation.

We appreciate the governor’s efforts to offer his own negotiated labor deal. Unfortunately, our analysis shows the governor’s savings are not enough to offset the damaging tradeoff of locking our state into these benefits for another 10 years. We’ve tried that before, and tying the hands of future governors and legislators has failed our state, its employees, and its taxpayers.

As part of the new direction for our state, we welcome working with union leadership to achieve structural changes through collective bargaining and we have laid out a plan to do so. Absent a willingness by union leaders to sit down to discuss these options, we have also laid out a course that can be achieved through legislative action alone.

To be clear, our proposal does not eliminate collective bargaining rights for state employees. In fact, it would be against federal law to unilaterally change any term of employment that is a mandatory subject of collective bargaining. Rather, our proposed budget would make modest changes to state employee benefits beginning in 2022, once the current contract expires. We are not looking for a “Wisconsin” moment as some individuals have labeled our plan as a scare tactic. Rather our proposed changes would put Connecticut more in line with how labor negotiations work in states such as Massachusetts.

In addition to reforming state employee benefits by changes such as increasing pension contributions to 6% and creating a new tier, our proposal also creates a more fair system for all state employees. For example, we don’t believe those making less should be paying the same amount for benefits as those state employees who have significantly larger salaries. Therefore, our plan implements a sliding scale based on salary for health care premiums. While some employees with high salaries will see their health care premiums increase, employees at the lower end of the pay scale will actually fare better than under the proposal union leaders have negotiated with the governor.

Right now the governor and Senate Republicans have each offered fully vetted and balanced budgets, while Democrats have yet to offer a complete plan. We cannot negotiate with ghosts, but we are and will continue to negotiate with anyone who puts out their ideas and recognizes the need to change course.

Connecticut Republicans are not fiddling while Rome burns. We have a vision, we have a plan, and now we push for action. 

Sen. Len Fasano serves as Republican President Pro Tempore and represents the 34th District, including Durham, East Haven, North Haven and Wallingford.

Sen. Paul Formica serves as co-chair of the Appropriations Committee and represents the 20th District. including Bozrah, East Lyme, part of Montville, New London, Old Lyme, part of Old Saybrook, Salem and Waterford. 

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