- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 4, 2003

HARTFORD, Conn., Feb. 4 (UPI) — Connecticut Republican Gov. John G. Rowland says a federal civil rights lawsuit filed against him by state employee unions is a publicity stunt.

The suit comes as legislators were poised Tuesday to vote on a tax package to help fill a $650-million budget gap.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Hartford.

"Let there be no mistake about what brings us here," chief union negotiator Daniel Livingston told union workers Monday while announcing the lawsuit at the Capitol.

"It is a governor who in times of economic crisis always demands sacrifices first from working people, second from the towns and cities," he said, "and only last, and incredibly grudgingly, from the largest corporations and those most able to pay."

Rowland has been seeking wage and benefit concessions from the unions to help balance the budget.

The suit alleges Rowland violated the Constitution's First and 14th amendments by laying off 2,800 unionized employees while sparing the jobs of non-union workers, according to the Hartford Courant.

It also claims the governor laid off members of 13 unions that supported his Democratic opponent in November's election while preserving jobs for state troopers, the only union that supported him.

Rowland told reporters Monday after the suit was filed that it was "a public relations stunt" following failed negotiations over the weekend.

"From the very beginning, the union strategy, in my opinion, has never been to reach an agreement," Rowland said.

"From our standpoint, we were involved in good-faith negotiations," he said, "but it's obvious the union leadership has been planning this lawsuit for some time."

The Democratic-controlled Legislature, meanwhile, continued to struggle to close the budget deficit for this fiscal year before addressing a shortfall estimated at $1.5 billion for the fiscal 2004.

One plan under consideration would increase the income tax on couples earning as little as $44,000 per year. While supported by some moderate Democrats, a coalition of liberal Democrats oppose tax increases on the middle class.

Republicans oppose any tax increases. A vote could come as early as Tuesday.

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