Whatever new initiatives Gov. Dannel P. Malloy unveils Wednesday in his revised budget for the next fiscal year, he likely won’t be asking for much extra staffing to carry them out.
Forced to rely more heavily than expected on retirements and other vacancies to control labor costs in his first year, the governor currently oversees a work force that’s about 14 percent smaller than his predecessor managed three years ago.
And with the administration needing to find more savings just to keep current spending in balance, Malloy’s budget chief concedes that any broad expansion of hiring across most agencies is unlikely.
“We’re just trying to adjust the authorized position count to reflect reality,” Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes said last week, adding that while “critical vacancies in public safety and health care” will be addressed, “there’s no question it’s going to be a challenge for some agencies to function effectively.”
Malloy, who took office in January 2011, inherited a state work force that — according to critics in labor and the legislature — has been weakened considerably by too many retirement incentive programs over the past two decades.
These have been a popular choice among prior governors and legislatures to cut personnel costs — in the short term — during tough fiscal times, having been offered five times between 1989 and 2009. A sixth would have been made available in 2010 had state union leaders accepted a proposal from then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
According to records from the comptroller’s office, retirements since 1989 have averaged 1,080 workers in years without incentives, and 4,285 in years with them.
The 2009 retirements, which totaled more than 4,700, took a particularly heavy toll, Barnes said. “I don’t think there was a serious effort in the last administration to realign (the work force) after the 2009 retirements,” he said.
Some agencies still argue they are short far too many workers. Sen. Toni N. Harp, D-New Haven, co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, said she’s particularly worried about the Department of Social Services, which has 8 percent fewer workers since January 2009, despite a growing demand for benefits in tough economic times.
“This didn’t just happen overnight, and it’s gotten worse over time,” she said. “I’m beyond concerned about that.”
Malloy warned shortly after he took office last year that he wouldn’t offer new incentives to spur more retirements. Critics of these incentive programs note that they have helped to weaken a cash-starved state employee pension program. That’s because as more workers retire sooner than expected, they stop paying into the pension system and start drawing benefits out of it.
Still, the concessions deal the governor struck with unions still pushed retirements in 2011 well above the level of a typical year without an incentive program.
Though no incentives were paid to encourage retirements, the concessions deal did impose several new restrictions on retirement benefits starting in October 2011. If there was no incentive for senior workers to retire, there was a disincentive for many to stick around after the fall.
Nearly 2,700 workers retired between January and October 2011.
As of January, the administration reported 38,957 full-time positions filled across all departments and agencies, down from 45,223 in January 2009 — four months before the last retirement incentive program was approved.
Staffing for the community-technical colleges, the Connecticut State Universities and the University of Connecticut isn’t included in that report, but its positions have declined on a similar track over the past three years.
And while many departments and agencies hoped to begin refilling many of those positions in 2012-13, the administration has had some recent struggles that could restrict further hiring.
Nonpartisan legislative analysts were reporting a $145 million deficit in the general fund, which covers the bulk of operating costs in this year’s $20.14 billion budget. Barnes’ office says finances remain in the black by a mere $1.4 million.
And the preliminary $20.4 billion budget adopted last June for 2012-13 originally was designed with a nearly $500 million surplus in the general fund, and $555 million across the entire budget. Those projected fiscal cushions have since been cut in half, due largely to shrinking estimates for tax revenues.
Not surprisingly, Malloy is still talking about shrinking state government.
The governor announced plans on Jan. 27 for a second round of agency consolidations, folding 15 departments, agencies or offices into seven.
“Last year we began the work of changing how the state does business — making government smaller, less costly and easier to navigate,” Malloy said. “Like companies and families across the state and the country, state government must do more with less.”
The governor and legislature agreed on a plan last spring for a net reduction of 22 departments and agencies, from 81 to 59. Technically, the new budget removed 27 entities via consolidation, but it also created five new ones, eliminating a net total of nearly 70 positions at that time.
Malloy said there would be relatively little in terms of position cuts, and budgetary savings, in this second round of mergers.
That’s largely due to a provision in the concession deal. In exchange for a two-year wage freeze, new restrictions on health care and retirement benefits, and savings from other changes, the administration agreed to exempt most bargaining units from layoffs for four fiscal years, through 2014-15.
Sen. Robert Kane of Watertown, the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said that granting the no-layoff clause was a mistake, but one Malloy can offset partially by trying to eliminate more non-union, administrative posts across state government.
“In my mind I think we need to go further,” Kane said. “We need to narrow that bureaucracy, and that (concessions) deal really painted us into a corner.”
Editor’s Note: This is Part III of a three-part series previewing fiscal issues in the 2012 legislative session.