Screen capture of Gov. Ned Lamont (courtesy of CTN)
Screen capture of Gov. Ned Lamont (courtesy of CTN)

Recent consolidations of government human resource functions will enable the state to leave open about half the human resources vacancies created by an expected wave of state employee retirements next year, Connecticut officials said Tuesday. 

Gov. Ned Lamont and his chief operating officer, Josh Geballe, offered the informformation at a Tuesday update on Lamont’s efforts to streamline previously-siloed HR and labor relations functions. It is one of the administration’s first specific estimates of how it will handle a coming swell of state worker retirements before next summer, when a previously-negotiated change in benefits kicks in and incentivizes employee retirement. 

Officials expect the 350-person HR and labor relations staff to shrink by about 140 people. They plan to fill 70 replacement positions. Geballe said the second year of the governor’s budget proposal assumes $6.5 million in savings as a result of the change. He said the savings are closer to $10 million if employee fringe benefits are factored in. 

There will be more than 8,000 state employees eligible to retire next year across all executive agencies. But Geballe said the state was not expecting to leave the same level of vacancies in each department. For instance, despite consolidation efforts in information technology services, Geballe said the administration was looking to replace every IT retirement. 

“It’s not a one size fits all approach,” he said. “It’s a different equation for each of these different plays. So there’s not a set formula.”

Lamont’s budget recommendations do assume significant savings from consolidations and retirements. Geballe said the second year of the budget factors for about $115 million in savings. 

It is a fraction of the potential retirement-based savings identified in a report by Boston Consulting Group. The 127-page report, commissioned by the state and released last month by Lamont’s office, estimated the state could find between $600 million and $900 million in savings related to the coming retirements. The report also suggested the state would have a difficult time realizing those levels of savings, in part due to work rules negotiated with state employee labor unions. 

State labor unions have criticized the report as looking to silence workers rather than see them as assets. The State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition responded with a statement saying the report sought to preserve a “broken status quo.”

“The possible loss of thousands of the state workforce’s most senior and experienced employees is frequently termed ‘an opportunity’ in this report,” the labor press release said. “That opens the door to more austerity and further deep cuts to services, instead of acknowledging the very real challenges facing the state.”

On Tuesday, the governor defended the report and said he had no intention of letting it sit unused on a shelf.

“We take the very best ideas, see how we can implement them. I know people belittle these studies but what they do is they give you some of the best practices from around the rest of the country. What these groups see from other states and we can learn from that,” Lamont said. 

The governor said he agreed with the report’s conclusion that there were too many rigid job classifications in the state’s workforce. Nick Hermes, the state’s chief human resources officer, said there were about 6,000 classifications in state service. Lamont said they were too narrowly defined in some cases.

“It makes it tougher for managers to put people in the jobs they can be most effective,” he said. “It’s something we ought to be talking about with labor.”

Lamont said his administration had been in contact with the state employee unions on its consolidation efforts. 

“We’re talking. We have a good, strong, collaborative relationship and we’re going to keep that communication going,” he said.