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September 5, 2019

State employee OT is up, but salary costs are lower than a decade ago

$15 minimum wage connecticut HBJ File Photo Connecticut state Capitol in Hartford.

While a new report shows state employee overtime costs have risen for the second consecutive year, overall salary expenses are way down over the past decade.

The big factor behind both trends: a concerted push during former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration to reduce the Executive Branch workforce.

Overtime costs across most state departments and agencies cost the budget’s General Fund $234.3 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30, the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis recently reported. The General Fund represents more than 90 percent of the total state budget and covers the bulk of annual operating costs.
That $234.3 million expense is up 2.7% from the 2018 fiscal year, and 14.6% since 2017, when the state spent $204.4 million on OT.

But overall General Fund salary costs, including regular wages and overtime, stood at $2.43 billion in the just-completed fiscal year. That’s $133 million — or 5% — less than they were in June 2009, 18 months before Malloy took office.
And if 2009 wage costs are adjusted for inflation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ inflation calculator, the drop over the past decade stands at nearly 21 percent.

Gov. Ned Lamont, who took office in January, also is looking to control overall wage costs, said Chris McClure, spokesman for the governor’s budget office.

“Governor Lamont is committed to keeping our state’s fiscal and operational house in order, which includes monitoring overtime use and staffing levels at our agencies,” McClure said. “In addition, we must examine the total costs related to employee compensation to include base salary expense rather than focusing on one metric such as overtime in isolation.”

For example, McClure added, law enforcement and other agencies with round-the-clock responsibilities often incur high overtime costs if too many vacancies exist. These departments also need additional time to replace staff, since significant initial training usually is required.

“We will continue to right-size staffing and maximize resources to reduce the demand for overtime, make government operate more efficiently, and deliver high quality services,” he said.

Malloy reduced the Executive Branch workforce by nearly 10% during his eight years in office. He also obtained union concessions twice, packages that included wage freezes in the 2013, 2018 and 2019 fiscal years.

The former governor relied on attrition, not layoffs, throughout most of his tenure to reduce the workforce, though legislative policy also drove that process.

Lawmakers routinely built huge, loosely defined savings targets into the annual budget, requiring the administration to achieve hundreds of millions of dollars in savings once the fiscal year was underway.

As Connecticut struggled for much of the past decade with a sluggish recovery from the last recession and annual budget deficits, this was a popular tool to limit the growth of state spending.

Labor unions, some legislators and other critics often charged this led to understaffing in some key agencies.

“The right-wing myth about the state workforce being the cause of Connecticut’s budget woes is simply nonsense,” said David Glidden, executive director of CSEA/SEIU Local 2001. “Our [past] budget shortfalls are due to an antiquated tax system which relies too heavily on the hardworking middle class and not enough on the wealthy who are capturing so much of the state’s economic growth.”

Glidden called efforts to constrain the state workforce “misguided,” adding it weakened Connecticut’s economy and lead state government to spend dollars inefficiently. “Increasing the size of the state workforce would reduce the need, both for overtime and for expensive outside consultants,” he added.

According to legislative analysts, the Department of Correction and the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services ran up the most overtime across each of the past two fiscal years.

The DOC incurred $76.6 million in overtime expenses last fiscal year and $72 million in 2018.

DMHAS had $52.9 million in OT costs last fiscal year and $54 million in 2018.

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