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CT government overtime is on the rise as overall payroll shrinks

Connecticut State Capitol
Wikimedia Commons

While Connecticut’s government overtime costs rose considerably this fiscal year as state employees retired in large numbers, overall payroll is way down from one decade ago.

A new report from the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis found General Fund overtime spending of most state agencies went up $20.4 million, or about 11%, during the first three-quarters of this fiscal year, which began last July 1.

Total overtime spending approached $207 million.

OFA totals include all three branches of government and most higher education units but exclude the University of Connecticut’s main campus in Storrs and most of its satellite campuses, which use a different human resource/payroll system from the rest of state government.

But according to Gov. Ned Lamont’s budget agency, the Office of Policy and Management, overall compensation in all areas covered in the OFA report — including salaries, overtime bonuses and paid leave — are projected to total $2.85 billion this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

That’s 16% less than the $3.4 billion annual payroll from one decade ago, once the $2.7 billion price tag from 2012 is adjusted for inflation using the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator.

State employee labor unions have argued for years that excessive vacancies in many agencies and departments have created cost-inefficient situations.

“Not only does failing to refill vacancies mean that the critical public services our 3.6 million residents rely on become less accessible, but it also means that the cost to taxpayers increases — meaning we’re paying more for less,” said Drew Stoner, spokeswoman for the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition. “It’s time to seriously address this staffing crisis.”

According to data obtained by the CT Mirror from the state Office of Policy and Management in late April, all Executive Branch agencies — excluding public colleges and universities — had collectively filled 25,700 of the 30,080 positions authorized for them in the state budget.

The 17% vacancy rate is almost double where it stood two years ago, when 9.4% of jobs were empty.

The staffing levels stem largely from two factors.

More than 4,330 state employees have retired since Jan. 1 or filed their written intention to do so, according to data released Wednesday from Comptroller Natalie Braswell’s office. That’s nearly double the number of retirements state government has faced annually between 2019 and 2021.

Many senior workers are rushing to get out the door before July 1. That’s when more stringent limits on pension and other retirement benefits tied to a 2017 union concessions deal take effect.

The second factor behind the reduced staffing levels goes back farther in time.

Between 2011 and 2018, the legislature and then-Gov. Dannel P. Malloy relied chiefly on attrition to shrink the Executive Branch workforce by about 10% to help close several budget deficits.

More than 90% of the state’s overtime spending in each of the past two fiscal years has been dominated by agencies that unions frequently have complained are particularly understaffed.

The Department of Correction led all state agencies with almost $73 million in overtime spending through the first three quarters of this fiscal year, followed by Mental Health & Addiction Services with $41.1 million and Developmental Services with $32.9 million.

The unions aren’t the only ones expressing concern about staffing levels.

Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, said that while she’s uncertain staffing levels have reached a “crisis” stage as labor asserts, the nearly decade-long downsizing of the 2010s coupled with the recent retirement surge “has had a dramatic impact on things. There is a need to have more people.”

Osten and her fellow co-chair on appropriations, Rep. Toni E. Walker, D-New Haven, crafted policy language in the new state budget — which begins July 1 — to encourage hiring.

The legislature routinely orders the governor to find millions of dollars in savings once the fiscal year is underway, and the Executive Branch usually relies on freezing a portion of vacant jobs to fulfill that mandate.

The new budget — at first glance — is no different, setting a savings target of $140 million.

But the legislature added language that specifically prohibits the Lamont administration from withholding funds from any departmental budget to achieve that savings, as long as state finances remain in the black.

And given that the new budget was crafted with a built-in surplus of almost $300 million, equal to a little more than 1.3% of the General Fund, lawmakers are optimistic no agency budget will need to be reduced.

Lamont also has said he hopes to slow the retirement surge by providing bonuses this spring and summer to state workers.

New wage agreements negotiated with most bargaining units last spring and ratified by the legislature in late April granted $2,500 bonuses to full-time workers in mid-May. A second bonus of $1,000 will be paid out in mid-July. Part-timers are eligible to receive prorated bonuses.

But this provision has sparked controversy among Republicans, who argue it was a political stunt by the Democratic governor to help his labor base as he runs for reelection this year. That’s because the deal allows employees to accept the mid-May bonus and still retire before July 1.

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