As Connecticut struggles to conquer a state budget deficit that eclipses any it has ever faced, lawmakers this week agreed to ratify concessions reached between Gov. Rell’s administration and the state employees’ collective bargaining unit.

Nearly $700 million in wage and benefit concessions are designed to help the state scale its mountain of debt. The agreement (contained in two measures, HR-31 and HB-6718) passed overwhelmingly in the House with bipartisan support.

Included are a one-year wage freeze, some state employee health plan benefit reductions, a retirement incentive program, mandatory furlough days and a reporting system to determine how the new retirement incentive program is affecting the state budget.

Some have complained that a no-layoff clause that’s also part of the concessions doesn’t go far enough, but the reality is that the streamlining and reorganizing of state government will take time to implement.

What’s more, state employee health benefits are under contract until 2017 and the related concessions had to be agreed to by the state employees and policymakers.

Damage from the nation’s economic crisis has caused profound and long-term changes in Connecticut’s economy, especially in Fairfield County with its strong ties to the financial industry. We also have to deal with huge unfunded liabilities for retirement and health benefits of state employees.

Solving Connecticut’s fiscal crisis goes beyond cutting the state budget this year, which still must be done. Ultimately, Connecticut needs a long-term, dramatic resizing of government downward to meet these realities. These are challenges that will take time for policymakers to understand and deal effectively with.

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