State departments ready cost-cutting plans
Published 5:20 pm, Monday, August 1, 2011
On the one side are state labor leaders hoping rank-and-file workers jump at a second chance to save 6,500 jobs by ratifying $1.6 billion in givebacks members shot down in June.
On the other is Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy, who will issue layoff notices -- 3,008 as of Wednesday -- and pursue other budget-balancing cuts until the union voting wraps up in mid-August.
Caught in the middle are state agencies hoping for the best but forced to devise -- and in some instances begin implementing before mid-August -- plans anticipating another "no" vote.
Many agencies have some breathing room. The state Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition last week set Aug. 18 as the deadline for wrapping up the newest round of balloting. Many members who have already received pink slips will not exit their jobs until after that date.
For example, Lt. J. Paul Vance, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said the 57 state troopers among Malloy's first round of layoffs are not scheduled to leave duty until Aug. 24. If the $1.6 billion package is approved a week earlier, those troopers will not be going anywhere.
Aug. 24 is also the date that the Judicial Branch would begin to experience job cuts, according to Tom Siconolfi, the branch's executive director of administrative services. "Any courthouse closings would not happen until at least September," Siconolfi said. "If the vote occurs before Aug. 24, then there is ample opportunity to rescind the layoff notices."
Everhart said the DOT's planned closures of highway rest areas and of the two river ferries in Chester-Hadlyme and Glastonbury-Rocky Hill also would not be implemented until late August or early September.
But, he added, managers have been told there could be some work interruptions earlier in the month due to layoffs.
Malloy said Friday the administration did not purposefully stagger layoffs to try and minimize the damage to government before a union re-vote.
"We proceeded with the layoffs as rapidly as we could, understanding it's a very complicated system," he said, adding when he first began issuing the notices the re-vote had not been scheduled.
The governor also told reporters he will wait until the results of the union vote to eliminate three political positions in his office. "If in fact these agreements are not approved we will make layoffs in our office immediately effective," he said.
The Department of Motor Vehicles does not have the luxury of waiting until Aug. 18. DMV spokesman William Seymour said because of already-announced layoffs and other factors, the agency picked Aug. 11 to shutter offices and/or photo license centers in Danbury, Milford, Derby and a few other municipalities.
"People begin to leave then or shortly after," Seymour said. But, he added, it will take time to move any equipment, making it easier to reopen those sites if the concessions are ratified a week later.
Patricia Ciccone, superintendent of the Connecticut Technical High School System, faces layoffs and a 10 percent budget cut that threaten arts, music and sports programs. But even if the concessions are ratified by mid-August, she said it might be too late to salvage the fall sports program because rival schools and leagues are currently building schedules.
"You have to inform them if you're not going to be able to field a team (to) allow them to try to put other schools into their schedule," Ciccone said. "And we have to show we don't have a program so our kids are eligible to play for the hometown high school in districts in which they live."
The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services has already begun halting admissions to beds at the Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown. "We were forced to initially close admissions to the 60 male addiction rehab beds effective July 20 in order to successfully treat and transition patients back to the community," DMHAS spokesman Jim Siemianowski said. "However, we have been given permission to continue to accept admission into one 30-bed unit pending further clarification of labor outcomes."
Preparing for the givebacks to fail is having other negative impacts on state government that are not easily quantifiable but, observers say, real. For example, departments are forced to spend time and resources on plans to restructure that could be otherwise put toward other projects. And just the effort involved in sending out layoff notices requires hours of time and paperwork.
A Malloy spokesman said no additional costs are incurred because the work is being done by salaried employees.
But Fred Carstensen, director of the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis, said, "No question this is costing the state. I'm sure it's seven figures. Millions in labor time and disruptions. People don't know whether they should start clearing out their desks. Clearly it will have had some impact on morale. And all these things are costly, no question."
F. Christopher Arterton, of New Haven, founding dean of the graduate school of political management at George Washington University, said it is an unfortunate but necessary expense."It may be something we would rather not do, but I think it's only responsible for people who are in state government to start planning for what could potentially happen," Arterton said. "If they don't it's an even worse disaster in a way."
Arterton added there is also a silver-lining for state officials to come up with real cost-saving measures that can still be implemented in the future even after unions ratify the concessions. "Never let a good crisis go to waste," Arterton said.
Staff Writer Brian Lockhart can be reached at brian.lockhart@scni.