As it draws close to submitting its finalized recommendations, a bi-partisan commission created to streamline state government found agreement on 32 of 33 recommendations to save about $200 million over next two fiscal years.

When the finalized recommendations are submitted, no later than Dec. 31, they will be considered by incoming Governor-elect Dan Malloy’s administration.

“Governor-Elect Malloy and his team will review these and other proposals as they work to put together a budget which reflects our state’s values, as well as the shared sacrifice we all must make in order to get the state’s fiscal house in order once again,” said Colleen Flanagan, Malloy’s spokeswoman.

Many of the recommendations voted on Monday received wide support, while some which involved state employee unions remained controversial.

The Commission on Enhancing Agency Outcomes deferred one of its recommendations, to adopt a scenario to reduce the number of managers within human services agencies, to be discussed at its next meeting on Dec. 15.

That recommendation hinges on what the commission decides constitutes a manager, as it strives to align the state’s manager to employee ratio within human services to that of the private sector.

The commission’s other 32 recommendations all passed, with all but two receiving unanimous approval from the members present.

One of the proposals, which did not receive unanimous support, was a recommendation to assign a working group to investigate whether staffing should be reduced at the Southbury Training School, a state home for mentally disabled people. The staffing reductions were being considered to account for a 21 percent reduction in the facilities residents.

Michael Cicchetti, Deputy Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management pointed out that disrupting the training school may have negative effects, as the average age of the residents of that home is 62.

“Many of them have been there for their entire adult life. I’m not sure that is the best option at this point,” he said of moving staff familiar with the residents from that facility.

One block of recommendations that was heavily debated were five proposals involving state employee benefits.

One of the recommendations suggests altering the benefits of retired employees by capping cost of living adjustment rates and maximum pensions. It was also recommended that pension salaries be based on the last five years of employment rather than the three years it is currently based on.

That recommendation, if implemented, could save the state an estimated $21 million, according to commission staff.

Another recommendation proposed increasing the level of employee contributions for pensions, an idea proposed by the Post-Employment Benefits Commission. With a one percent increase, it could save the state $32 million.

The Commission also recommended eliminating or suspending longevity bonuses. The state legislature has the power to eliminate the bonuses for non-classified employees and save $6.5 million by eliminating the April 2011 payments. The elimination of the bonuses for union members would save $11.8 million, but would have to be bargained for by Malloy and the state employee unions.

It was also suggested that the state reduce the amount of overtime that can be used in averaging annual salaries when calculating pension benefits. Currently newer state employees must contribute to their retirement healthcare plans, while some older employees are not required to do so. It was suggested that all state employees be required to contribute to their plans, a change that could result in $32 million in state savings.

The recommendations aimed at state employee benefits were debated at length on Monday. Rep Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, suggested that some of the cuts in benefits need to implemented over time, as they are built into the pay structures of state employees, but agreed they must be cut.

“We need to phase out longevity payments,” she said, “there’s no question about that.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, seemed worried that the commission’s recommendations were not specific enough to be useful.

“We are the little trickle of hope in this process. We need to ensure every word is specific,” he said.

One proposal actually involved spending money to save it over time. It was recommended that changes be made to Personal Service Agreements including more evaluation of state contracts by a contracting board, but Mushinsky said her research staff had concluded that there was simply not enough staff members in the contract office to conduct extra reviews.

“If there’s no one there’s nobody over there it’s not going to happen,” she said.

So the item was altered to recommend a contract review staff. That amendment was not entirely popular. Miner said he doubted that adding an extra level of government would help the problem. He wasn’t alone. Cicchetti questioned its necessity and the accuracy of the projected $37.6 million in savings the item would generate.

Cicchetti also questioned the projected savings of another recommendation, to enhance community prevention and intervention efforts by the Department of Children and Families. He said the savings, initially estimated at $4.8 million could not be accurate because the programs already had a waiting list.

“We can’t expand service without expanding the line item,” he said, adding that while the programs seemed effective the state couldn’t just serve 100 more families without the cost of the programs going up.

Instead the recommendation passed with an “unknown” in the projected savings column.

But Miner pointed out that the function of the commission was more about policy and less about numbers.

“It may, in fact, cost us money but in the long-run we save,” he said.

Another proposal, to consolidate back-office functions of human services, was approved after Miner motioned to have the reductions altered from 10 percent to between 10 and 28 percent. The number was changed when it was agreed that there was enough gray area in human services agencies that a hard number was not appropriate.  At 10 percent, the proposal would save an estimated $1.4 million.

After the meeting Rep. John Geragosian, co-chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said the commission is doing what it should by finding efficiencies in state government and looking at the problems both in the long-term and the short-term. “The commission came out with a good proposal that recommends a variety of opportunities to save money,” he said.

The commission will meet again on Dec. 15, when it will finalize its recommendations. Follow this link for a full list of the commission’s recommendations.