In the weeks since Governor Dannel P. Malloy unveiled his budget proposal, the plan has been subject to criticism from all sides. Some have decried the $1.5 billion to $1.9 billion in tax increases that, on top of the state’s already heavy tax burden, threatens to deter future economic growth.
Others have focused on Malloy’s proposed reforms to state government. Keeping a campaign promise, the Governor proposed consolidating 81 state agencies down to 57, a 30 percent reduction as promised during the campaign. The suggestion to combine the Office of State Ethics, the Freedom of Information Commission, and the Elections Enforcement Commission, for example, has met with particular disdain in some quarters.
But perhaps no part of the Governor’s budget has been met with more skepticism than his intention to seek $2 billion in concessions from state employees. Former state Rep. Jonathan Pelto, for example, has called it a gimmick and predictably, a host of state employees have attended Malloy’s town hall meetings to express their dissatisfaction with the plan.
The central complaint has been that reaching the $2 billion figure using the same old solutions that have been used in the past, like furlough days, increased employee pension contributions, and the like, will be hard. In their review of the Malloy plan, the Office of Fiscal Analysis listed $551 million in potential annual savings, such as a wage freeze, a 35-hour work week, and increased health care premiums.
The reality, however, is that achieving $2 billion in concessions isn’t going to happen by simply re-applying the usual remedies to the new, bigger problems. The Malloy plan will force more fundamental reforms to state government that will change the way that Connecticut delivers services.
The above-mentioned OFA review notes that each state employee furlough day saves roughly $14 million. Taking their proposed $551 million in concessions (which included three furlough days), reaching $1billion in savings would require a total of 36 days. For all practical purposes, this would constitute a shift of state government to a mandatory four-day workweek.
It would not be unprecedented. The State of Utah has used such a system since 2008 in order to reduce the state’s carbon footprint, reduce traffic congestion, and improve the “work-life balance” of state employees.
The move has been popular with state employees and citizens alike. As state legislators in Utah have recently considered returning to the more traditional work schedule, most employees and public opinion polls show strong support for the four-day schedule.
Streamlining service delivery in the private sector has often meant substituting capital for labor. Whether it’s the check-in kiosk at the airport or integrating robots into the assembly line, technology has offered innumerable opportunities for reducing costs while improving productivity.
Government must do the same. Delivering government services online, or E-Government, has the potential to save millions of taxpayer dollars. The Program Review and Investigations Committee proposed House Bill 1086 to implement their recommendations for sharping the state’s focus on E-Government. It should be considered and passed by the legislature quickly.
Other structural reforms should be on the table as well. Shifting some services currently provided by state employees, such as state park maintenance or prison operation to private vendors would reduce costs and, using the forces of market competition, facilitate further cost savings in the future.
In many ways, Mr. Malloy’s plan is somewhat bolder than even that of the much-maligned Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, whose budget repair bill generated weeks of browbeating and wailing. Both Walker and Malloy recognize the current budget crisis is not simply an unhappy byproduct of a down economy. It is the product of decades of reckless spending.
Both parties have been guilty of overspending. But as the bill for these excesses has come due, it is now time to take a hard look at how government spends money and identify ways for doing it far more effectively. Governor Malloy’s plan should be commended for shifting the focus onto spending reform.
Heath W. Fahle served as executive director of the Connecticut Republican Party from 2007-2009. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com