Senators: End at-will provision

Last modified: 4/14/2011 12:00:00 AM
Senate budget writers yesterday recommended stripping the House budget of a provision to make public workers at-will employees once contracts expire among other measures senators said determine policy rather than spending.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Morse said that policy committees could take up the issues but that his committee would work on a spending plan. Morse, a Republican from Salem, said senators want to reinstate as much as $200 million in cuts made by House budget writers but must replace them with other spending reductions. He cautioned the savings would be difficult to find.

'I don't think you can get that many cuts out of the departments right now,' Morse said. 'The basic budget is going to be very tough to put together, and I don't think you can realize $200 million in cuts.'

Senators are committed to reinstating $10 million per year for services for people with disabilities and $100 million sent to hospitals to reimburse uncompensated care, Morse said. He said that senators will also reconsider cuts to services for people with mental illness but that he wants to reform the way those services are delivered.

The at-will provision, which had provoked outcry from unions and Democrats, would allow public employers to unilaterally change workers' wages, benefits and terms of employment after contracts expire. Rep. Neal Kurk, a Weare Republican who chairs a division of the House Finance Committee, had presented the measure as a way to ensure the state could negotiate a cut to benefits for state workers originally proposed by Gov. John Lynch.

Morse said yesterday the provision does not belong in the budget.

'If a policy committee goes and debates that in the Senate, that's a different issue,' Morse said. 'But the reality is it had no tie to the financial part of the budget.'

Morse said negotiators who decide on the next contract for state workers will have to find $50 million in savings or face layoffs.

One area senators may examine for further budget cuts is the Department of Corrections. Corrections is the only major agency that saw increased funding in the budget put forward by Lynch, but Morse said the department would receive no increase. Commissioner William Wrenn is scheduled to present his budget today, and Morse said the senators would put forth a plan to find savings by changing how services are delivered.

Morse has also proposed changing how the state delivers social services by instituting managed care, setting a scale for Medicaid payments and implementing a system of health homes, where people receiving state-funded medical services would enroll at a community health center as their primary source of care.

The recommendations yesterday did not constitute formal votes by the committee. Rather, members made recommendations so the staff of the Legislative Budget Assistant could prepare the proposal.

The committee recommended removing House provisions that would limit state services for children with serious emotional disturbances and would discharge adults from services if they went four weeks without demonstrating impairments.

Members also recommended removing language that would abolish the state Department of Cultural Resources and transfer components like the Division of Historical Resources to other departments.

Many of the dozens of budget provisions tagged for removal correlate to other legislation.

The Senate yesterday killed a bill that would have changed medical benefits for retired state workers, so the committee recommended removing language related to it.

Members also recommended removing language in several areas where the Senate has developed its own position, such as proposals to reform the state retirement system and to change how the state pays for public education.

(Karen Langley can be reached at 369-3316 or klangley@cmonitor.com.)




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