Connecticut suffers from an approach to public policy that’s laser-focused on today’s urgent problems, while leaving tomorrow’s important challenges unaddressed. With lawmakers yet again cobbling together a budget at the last minute, time grows increasingly short to change the trajectory of our struggling state. A common sense approach to restoring Connecticut’s vitality should help us.
Civil Service Reform
Several state union representatives spent more than half of the year working for their unions while still getting paid by the state, driving up overtime costs and putting an extra burden on the state budget. The year of 2015 contained 261 working days but Ronald J. McLellan, president of the Connecticut Employees Union Independent SEIU local 511, spent 201 of those days on union leave. He earned $111,000 in pay and fringe benefits from the state while working for the union, and continued to keep his title of lead power plant operator at Central Connecticut State University.
Gregory Linhoff was arrested for smoking marijuana in his state vehicle while working at the UConn Health Center as a “skilled maintainer.” However, the Connecticut State Employee’s Union Independent is fighting his dismissal and has taken the issue all the way to the Connecticut Supreme Court.
Money meant to help women, infants and children in the city of Hartford is being eaten up by high employee salaries. Hartford's federally-funded WIC program, run through the city's Department of Health and Human Services, served more than 11,000 of the city’s poor in 2013, according to an audit of the program. However, the agency’s high employee pay and benefits affect the number of people the program can help. If HHS paid competitively with other non-profit organizations it could service an additional 3,300 nursing or expectant mothers.
Connecticut continues to struggle with budget deficits. In the past five years, our lawmakers passed the two largest tax increases in state history. And every year in recent memory the budget begins the year in balance and slowly falls behind as the year goes on. Why does this happen repeatedly, year after year? Here’s why: The cost of benefits for government employees is growing much faster than tax revenue. Some categories of benefits are growing nearly 10 percent each year while tax revenue is growing at 2 percent – at best. That means other aspects of government – services for people in need, road maintenance, town aid – face cuts even while overall spending grows. These benefits could be reformed, but they aren’t because of conflicts of interest present throughout the system.
The town of Woodstock with a population of just 8,000 is giving big healthcare stipends to town hall employees who opt out of the town’s healthcare plan. Employees, including First Selectman Alan Walker Jr. and tax collector Linda Bernardi, receive stipends of $1,163 per month while getting healthcare coverage through their spouses. On an annual basis, the stipends add up to $13,956 and costs taxpayers about $98,000.