A day after labor and community groups called on Gov. Ned Lamont to fill vacancies and expand the state workforce, the governor told attendees at an economic conference in Hartford that an ongoing wave of retirements presents an opportunity for leaner government.
Lamont appeared at The Bushnell in Hartford Thursday morning for the 2021 Connecticut Economic Development Summit, a conference organized by his Economic and Community Development Department.
During a roughly 13-minute speech, the governor touched on a variety of topics including a constriction of the state employee workforce, driven in large part by a previously-negotiated change in retiree cost-of-living benefits. The change incentivizes retirement for eligible employees before next July.
“We’ve got a lot of people retiring,” Lamont said. “They’re retiring — A, [because] we’re in a retirement boom, they’re of a certain age, we’ve changed the pension calculations such that on June 30, some of them feel like they have an incentive to retire as we try and stabilize our pension obligations.”
The governor highlighted a supplemental $1.6 billion contribution the state made to its unfunded pension liabilities this year, a step required as the state’s Rainy Day Fund swelled above its $3 billion limit. Lamont called the contribution a move that will help reduce the size of future debt payments. He also said the retirements provide an opportunity to restructure state government.
“What Josh [Geballe, state chief operating officer] is trying to do is, how do we rethink state government? How do we do it, perhaps on a leaner platform because we won’t be able to attract the same people or even need a different type of people with more IT skills,” Lamont said.
The governor’s comments come on the heels of a Wednesday afternoon press conference where unions representing state employees and a coalition of labor, faith and community groups called on Lamont to replace retiring workers, fill other existing vacancies, and resist the temptation to use the moment to consolidate and privatize government services. Puya Gerami, campaign director of the Recovery for All coalition, said now is the wrong time to cut or privatize services.
In an emailed statement Thursday, Recovery For All questioned what the governor meant by his comments to the economic summit and asked whether the word, “rethink” was code for “cutting, underfunding, and privatizing public services.”
“During the worst crisis in a century, we’re facing a severe understaffing across every single state agency,” the statement read. “With a robust recruitment plan and fair contracts Connecticut could continue to attract the talented and knowledgeable staff we need to lift up our communities. But we don’t have time to waste — the time to act is now. The lives of residents across Connecticut are in the balance.”
Bargaining units representing much of the state workforce are negotiating new contracts with the Lamont administration and those talks come as the governor, a Democrat, begins his reelection bid next year.
During the summit, Lamont said his administration’s focus on IT skills had already paid dividends at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
“I don’t know if any of you had to renew your driver’s license lately, but you don’t wait in long curling lines. You’re lying in bed, in your PJs, sipping a latte, going on your iPhone, and it gets renewed,” Lamont said to applause from the audience. Lamont laughed. “That’s it. I love it.”