State lawmakers gave preliminary approval Tuesday for a plan to restructure pension obligations and help avoid huge payments looming in the future, but many made it clear they want further changes in workers’ retirement benefits.

In separate votes, House and Senate members of the Appropriations Committee approved the agreement reached by Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration and state employee union officials.

“I think this is a good beginning, but I think there’s a lot more work to be done,” said East Lyme Sen. Paul Formica, the Republican Senate co-chairman of the committee. “I’d like to talk in terms of pension reforms.”

The full House and Senate are expected to vote on Feb. 1.

The deal was reached after months of negotiations between Malloy’s office and the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition. Malloy has noted that without the agreement Connecticut is on track to see payments for current and past pension obligations jump from $826 million in 2010-11, when he took office, to $6 billion in 2032 — an amount described as an unaffordable fiscal cliff for the state that has worried bond rating agencies and major employers.

Among other things, this plan extends the repayment period for a portion of Connecticut’s unfunded pension liabilities from 2032 to 2047, stabilizing annual payments at approximately $2.5 billion until 2021. Afterward, the payments are projected to begin declining.

Rate of return

At the same time, the agreement includes language showing the administration and SEBAC support a lower assumed rate of return on pension fund investments, from 8 percent to 6.9 percent.

Lawmakers made it clear Tuesday they’re hoping to see changes in pension benefits as well, given the state’s continued financial challenges. The new fiscal year, beginning July 1, is estimated to be approximately $1.5 billion in deficit. However, the state’s health and pension benefit agreement with organized labor is not set to expire until June 2022.

Malloy’s administration is in private discussions with union officials.

“We are at the table now, and I’m going to see those discussions through,” the governor said.

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