Gov. Ned Lamont said Tuesday he is exploring private management of a new public benefit that the Democratic governor has pledged to create this year with the support of labor and over the concerns of business: A paid family and medical leave program financed by a tax on employees.
“If I have somebody who wants to administer this thing and take the financial risk in return for a 10-year contract, that’s the way I like to think about these things,” said Lamont, a cable entrepreneur elected last fall..
The Lamont administration and Democratic lawmakers have proposed competing versions of legislation that essentially would create a disability insurance program that would pay workers at least a portion of their wages to care for family members for up to 12 weeks.
Negotiations are underway with legislative committee co-chairs and other stakeholders about the variables of such a benefit: How much weeks of wages would be offered? What percentage of wages would be replaced? Who would be eligible? What constitutes a family member?
As a form of insurance to be covered by a half-percent payroll tax on employees, those variables must be set before actuaries can assure the governor and legislature of the program’s solvency.
“We are sitting down with the respective chairmans as we speak, right now,” Lamont said. “I’m also talking to folks in Massachusetts and Rhode Island and other places, New York, where we can learn from their experience. And we’re going to take the best ideas we can and put that forward in a bill we know is fiscally locked tight.”
Advocates of paid family and medical leave said Tuesday that a new poll they commissioned from BLS Research & Consulting found 88 percent of registered voters supporting such a benefit, with support across party lines. Support dropped to 82 percent when respondents were told the program would offer 12 weeks of paid leave and would be paid for “through very small payroll deductions.”
The National Federation of Independent Business said the poll offers an incomplete view.
“A public poll doesn’t reflect a reality small businesses would face if one or more employees are off the job for up to 12 weeks,” the NFIB said in a statement. “It’s highly possible the required work can’t be completed. Maybe large companies with many employees could handle it, but this will become an impossible circumstance for most small businesses.”
Lindsay Farrell, the executive director of the Working Families Party, a union-financed group and part of the coalition backing passage of the bill, said the advocates are skeptical about private management, but their goal is a solid program with benefits generous enough to be useful to lower-paid workers.
“This is not an ideological fight. We just want to make sure the program works,” Farrell said. “Most people don’t have a very good experience with private insurance companies. It’s public dollars. We want to make sure we keep the costs down for people.”
If the program is not privatized, it would be run by the state Department of Labor.
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, has publicly urged the administration to look at private management, but the GOP still was dubious about paid family and medical leave as is currently being considered by Democrats.
“I think there still is a long way to go,” Fasano said. “I think having it funded by an outside group saves money, will be done more efficiently and probably gives the bill a bigger chance of actually working. But there is a lot more to this bill that raises concerns with my caucus and won’t garner votes in the current form.”
Correction: As originally posted, this story said the pollster did not ask about the payroll tax.