THE ‘BARNES BILLION DOLLAR BUDGET’ PROVISION—AN ESCAPE HATCH FOR UNION CONCESSION TALKS

Hear The Shad’s interview with Ray Dunaway on the WTIC-AM Morning Show on this topic!

The state legislature may vote on a budget as early as next week (no, it won’t be today even if the governor wants it to be) and the elephant—or the donkey—in the room is the $2 billion in union concessions that are needed to make the thing balance. The “elephant or donkey” imagery for the labor concessions is appropriate because both the Democrats-Malloy plan that will eventually come to a vote and the Republicans’ “no new taxes” alternative both rely on the same concessions number—$1 billion a year over two years. However, the secret to “success” in getting a budget in place regardless of the outcome of the give-back talks is the “Barnes Billion Dollar Provision” (and yes, The Shad just coined that).

In the budget that is the result of the appropriations and finance committees’ work (and the agreement between Dem leaders and Malloy), the governor’s budget chief is given unprecedented power to make cuts where he sees fit. And I mean wherever.

Note the sweeping language contained in what is referred to as “the back of the budget”: Sec. 12. (Effective July 1, 2011) The Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management shall recommend reductions in expenditures to achieve Labor-Management Savings for the fiscal years ending June 30, 2012 and June 30, 2013, in order to reduce expenditures by $1,000,000,000 for such purpose during each such fiscal year.  Notwithstanding any provisions of the of the general statutes, such reductions may, in the secretary’s discretion, be applied to any accounts in any appropriated fund for any budgeted agency of the executive, legislative or judicial branch and the constituent units of the state system of higher education, as defined in section 10a-1 of the general statutes.” [The Shad’s emphasis added].

The provision is unprecedented in its scope. Even the governor’s traditional rescission, or cutting, authority has limits. For instance, local aid is off limits (although Malloy tried to change that too in a budget “implementer” bill). The Barnes Billion Dollar Provision has no limits on where it can go, in any of the three branches of government.

It also begs the question by the more cynical among us (The Shad not being a cynic, of course), whether the provision is a kind of escape hatch for Malloy and the unions who got him elected, on the concessions issue. In other words, we could be left with, “Hey we tried…but all we could agree to was $XXX million in concessions. So Ben, start wielding that chainsaw until we reach the billion-per-year-for-two-years mark. Oh, judicial—you don’t like getting cut? Too bad. It’s Ben’s authority. Legislative? Go pound sand. We can do it. State agencies? See ya.”

The only thing that can’t and won’t be cut under the Barnes Billion Dollar Provision is what was agreed to in collective bargaining with…wait for it…the state employee unions. That’s right, the same folks who were supposed to be the source of the billions in savings in the first place. Although that can be achieved as well if entire agencies are axed.

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