It may seem odd, but Gov. Ned Lamont and I agree on something, that the raises for state employees that went into effect on July 1 should have been delayed. Weeks ago in a letter to the governor we asked him to use his authority to delay the raises. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, on June 9, Governor Lamont reported that the State Employees Bargaining Coalition had rejected his calls to put off raises, and he was powerless to do anything about it. This is where our agreement ends.
While more than 600,000 of our friends and neighbors have been forced to file for unemployment benefits as a result of the devastation caused by COVID-19 in Connecticut, the governor claims to be powerless to stop the second installment of 5.5 percent pay raises for state employees, the first of which was paid out last year. Simply put, the stakes are too high for his weakness and hand-wringing.
By executive order, utilizing his emergency powers, Governor Lamont had no trouble doing what he felt was right, making numerous decisions including, among other things, the decision to close thousands of Connecticut small and local businesses, closing houses of worship and giving undocumented immigrants $3 million in assistance. Yet despite these extraordinary steps, the governor has been unable to find a way to break away from the backroom deal negotiated with powerful government employee unions by his predecessor, Gov. Dan Malloy, and rubber-stamped by the Democrat majority in the State Legislature.
As leaders, it is our job to find a way to do the most difficult things. Governors of New York, California, Virginia and Pennsylvania, all Democrats, have all made decisions to adjust state employee compensation in light of the incredible crisis our respective states are facing. Governor Lamont should do likewise. State law allows for both the governor and the legislature to amend existing contracts if certain conditions exist, including overriding public health and safety concerns or if it is in the best interests of the public. Given that we are facing an estimated $2 billion deficit next year it is clearly in the state’s best interest to at least delay the raises for three months. That would give our budget experts the time to better assess our financial health.
In 2017 Attorney General George Jepsen indicated that in the most extreme circumstances, the state could take action to amend existing labor contracts. Governor Lamont has demonstrated his willingness to use his authority to exact sweeping changes that have affected the lives and livelihood of every single resident, family and business in Connecticut during this crisis. The governor has asked a lot from the people of Connecticut. He also asked stated employees to help and, unfortunately, their union said “No.” And because he counts on organized labor for his election, he basically replied “OK, thanks so much; sorry to bother you.” Where there is a will, there is a way.
Delay the raises, force the unions to sue you in court or meet you at the bargaining table. I, my fellow Republicans, and more than a few Democrats will charge with you up that hill. I believe the circumstances have never been more dire, as our state has been confronted with a global pandemic that has taken the lives and livelihood of our friends and neighbors. The governor must act.
Themis Klarides is the CT House Republican Leader. She represents the 114th District (Derby, Orange and Woodbridge).