A legislator takes a picture of the tally board after the House vote on the budget in 2017. It included a labor deal that limited state employee retirement benefits. Jacqueline M. Rabe / CTMirror.org

With just over one week to go before more stringent pension limits take effect, more than 4,400 state employees either have retired this calendar year or filed their written intention to step down before July 1, according to new numbers released Wednesday by Comptroller Natalie Braswell’s office.

That includes 3,090 employees who retired between Jan. 1 and June 1 and another 1,346 who’ve indicated in writing they will step down before July 1.

That’s double the number of retirements the state has averaged over the previous three calendar years, according to data from the comptroller.

Besides an aging state workforce, the other catalyst behind this year’s first-half surge in retirements is a 2017 concessions deal unions negotiated with then-Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to help avert budget deficits.

Unionized employees, who received four years of protection against layoffs, accepted two years of wage freezes, furlough days and a delay in longevity payments.

But the concessions area that unions and state officials agree is sparking retirements now is tied to the pension program — specifically new cost-of-living adjustment rules.

The new COLA system — for those retiring July 1, 2022 or later — is tied to the Consumer Price Index and also features a series of caps that could produce adjustments smaller than the CPI. 

The first COLA payment for post-July 1 retirees won’t come until 30 months after retirement. Under the outgoing system, that payment comes within the first nine to 15 months.

The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, which includes most bargaining units within state government, has said the public sector faces a staffing crisis and must immediately begin beefing up agencies and departments.

“Refilling these vacancies is not only paramount to our ability to protect the critical public services we all rely on but also to ensure a strong economy that addresses the historical, racial and socio-economic gap present in Connecticut,” SEBAC spokeswoman Drew Stoner told the CT Mirror earlier this month.

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 shrinking workforce also has made it more difficult for state agencies to limit overtime expenses.

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.

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.