HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — The state Senate overwhelmingly approved a multi-year labor agreement recently ratified by 46,000 unionized Connecticut state employees.
The four-year deal, which is retroactive to July 1, 2021, builds upon an agreement the state had reached in 2017 with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC).
The bill passed in the House on a vote of 96 to 52. Democrats were united Thursday in approving the agreement while all but one Republican, Rep. Tom Delnicki of South Windsor, opposed the legislation.
The 35 labor contracts, which were ratified by the various unions last month, include 2.5% general wage increases and step increases retroactive to July 1, 2021. The workers will also receive additional 2.5% general wage increases and step increases beginning July 1 and July 1, 2023. State and union officials are expected to meet again in the fourth year to negotiate wages.
The $2 billion agreement also includes special lump-sum payments of $2,500 for active employees who’ve been on the job since March 31 and $1,000 for those employed as of July 15, 2022. There’s a pro-rated bonus for part-time employees.
Some Republicans in the House raised concerns about the bonuses, noting how state workers could still retire even after receiving the bonuses.
BUDGET NEGOTIATIONS CONTINUE
Democrats say their budget will include money for the state worker agreement and for some tax relief. Republicans who are not at the negotiating table, say the state workers’ contract is too expensive and instead offered their own tax relief package, which includes an income tax cut — the first rate cut since 1995.
The state has a windfall of $1 billion from recent sales tax collections due to inflation, boosting the surplus to nearly $4 billion.
House Minority Leader Republican Vincent Candelora challenged Lamont.
“Governor, show some courage, join hands with the Republicans so we can get a budget that helps the entire state of Connecticut, not just a few,” Candelora said.
Republicans unveiled a broad tax relief package — most of it is temporary and paid for with the windfall. It includes continuing the 25-cent cut in the gas tax, a cut in the sales tax, rolling back the trucker tax, and putting in place a $200 property tax cut for all homeowners. They also propose a permanent lowering of the income tax so middle-class families can save $750 a year.
“It’s some short-term spending and relief for our taxpayers in order to get that long-term gain,” Candelora said.
Democrats negotiating the $24 billion budget say there is a $180 million cap on tax relief — a federal rule in exchange for accepting American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars.
Republicans say 18 states, including two run by Democratic governors, are suing the Biden administration to get rid of the cap, and Connecticut’s refusal to do the same is not fair.
“We don’t have to continue to overtax our citizens because we took federal money,” Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly (R-Stratford) said.
State Rep. Matt Ritter, the Democratic speaker of the House, says for Republicans to propose tax cuts without some legal guidance and clarity is irresponsible.
“You can do that when you don’t have to run the ship. So, if the other guy was governor, who’s running? Would this be what he does? Would he risk all the ARPA funds that the state has by doing this?” Ritter warned.
Republicans say they’re going to pay for a legal challenge on behalf of the people of Connecticut once the federal circuit court makes a decision.
Democrats say they’re close to a budget deal. Theirs includes a child tax credit set to begin in 2024, and an expansion of the earned income tax credit for the working poor.
How much money does the state have to spend on programs?
$3.1 billion rainy day fund
$3.95 billion in black ink this fiscal year
A grand total of slightly more than $7 billion.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.