Connecticut’s coalition of state employee unions is asking Gov. Ned Lamont to reinvest in state services to restart the economy for the middle class and poor by raising taxes on the wealthiest residents.
According to a report issued Monday by In The Public Interest, “Austerity Versus Reinvestment,” the policy of cutting services to save money after the Great Recession of 2007 left the state and many of its residents vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Connecticut has cut public investments over the last decade by more than 20%, which means state agencies have severely diminished capacity to deal with the real increase in demand for services by Connecticut residents as they try to navigate this historically difficult time,” the report said.
The State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition, known as SEBAC, a group of 15 state employee unions that represent 46,000 workers in corrections, public health, education, criminal justice, transportation and other state functions, contends that the report highlights the need to retain and hire state employees to expand services to provide aide and jumpstart the economy which would have a positive impact on low wage and middle class workers.
SEBAC is looking to have a dialog with the administration and legislators to change the tax structure so that the state’s 130,000 millionaires and 17 billionaires will pay a higher share of taxes to help fund an expansion of services, said Rob Baril, president of SEIU Local 1199, one of the unions that works with SEBAC.
“Millionaires and billionaires are the only ones who have not been asked to sacrifice anything during the pandemic,” Baril said. People in the lowest income brackets pay 25% of their income in taxes while people in the highest earning brackets only pay 6%, he added.
But the plan may be a hard sell. Dozens of state residents lined up to speak against a proposed “mansion” tax that would be implemented on property owners whose homes are valued at more than $430,000 Monday.
At the same time, Lamont is hoping to capitalize on the “silver tsunami,” the thousands of state employees who will be eligible to retire in the next year, by not refilling many of the positions.
Asked at an unrelated press conference if he was supportive of tax increase proposals before the legislature, Lamont said he wasn’t.
“We just got $10 billion from the federal government,” Lamont said. “Some of it are direct payments that will be a shot in the arm to the economy.”
Lamont said he would be working closely with the legislature to figure out how the money would be spent, but overall he thought the state was in good shape.
The report authored by Shahzrad Habibi, policy and research director for In the Public Interest, and Jennifer Klein, professor of History at Yale University, concluded that state’s regressive tax structure and repeated cuts to vital services have weighed the most heavily on the working poor and middle class including state employees.
“Layoffs and reductions of the public sector workforce are particularly harmful to women and Black workers because they disproportionately hold jobs in state and local government services,” the report said.
According to the Office of Legislative Research, 18.5% of state employees who held non-managerial positions identified as Black or African American, “which is well above the 11.9% of the total state population who identified as Black or African American.”
The cuts have also hurt the public, especially during the pandemic, the report said. More than a third of adults in Connecticut reported having trouble covering usual household expenses in November and December, a Census Bureau Pulse Survey said. More than 10% of adults reported that children in their households were not getting enough to eat because they couldn’t afford food and 16% of renters were behind on rent payments, the survey found.
Officials had to scramble when the pandemic hit because the state Department of Labor had closed job centers across Connecticut including the call center in 2015, said Mayra Cruz, who works at the DOL in reemployment services.
Due to the volume of people who were suddenly unemployed, the DOL temporarily re-opened the call center, Cruz said. But it should remain open long after the pandemic subsides, Cruz said.
“Our call center must be a permanent fixture for the residents of Connecticut,” Cruz said in the report. “They need to feel secure we are there for them in the worst of times. They need to know the State of Connecticut and the Department of Labor value their employees and the communities they serve by prioritizing these services for all of Connecticut.”