by Wayne Pesce/President, Connecticut Food Association
Many of us who work at the state capitol were anxious to know before the 2016 election about whether the “Trump effect” or “Malloy effect” would carry more weight at the polls in the minds of Connecticut’s voting public.
Based on the results, Connecticut citizens made their feelings clear. In state legislative races, Republicans picked up three seats in the state Senate and another eight in the state House. The Senate was tied 18-18 during the session, while Democrats held a slight 79-72 majority in the House.
What transpired turned out to be a roller-coaster ride of a budgeting process as the governor and the almost evenly divided state legislature could not agree on. We had a budget debate that lasted from early February through the end of October—nine months in total and four months into the new fiscal year.
It was obvious as early as April that Gov. Dannel Malloy didn’t have the support of Democrats in the state assembly to push his proposed budget through. After missing the deadline to pass a state budget in early June, he signed an executive order to continue funding state government.
The executive order allowed state government to operate in the absence of an adopted budget and would eventually have a negative impact on multiple state social service programs as well as education funding to many towns and cities.
Also in June, with budget talks stalled, Gov. Malloy announced that his administration had signed a tentative contract with the state employee unions, touting billions in savings for taxpayers. According to the governor, the new deal saved $712.6 million next fiscal year and $849.4 million in 2018-19—effectively matching the $1.57 billion, two-year savings target he set in February.
The plan would freeze wages for each of the next two fiscal years and a cumulative three-year wage freeze would provide nearly half of the total projected savings. State employees would receive pay hikes of 3.5 percent in 2020 and in 2021. In return for these concessions, the state extended its worker benefits contract—which otherwise would expire in 2022—until 2027.
Republicans (and some Democrats) were furious as they felt extending the deal with unionized public employees into 2027 compounded mistakes made by previous administrations, which were driving the current deficit forecasts.
It is important to note Connecticut has approximately 211 public workers for every 10,000 state residents—which is below the national average of 232 workers. It isn’t the number of workers that’s the problem in Connecticut; it’s the cost per worker. Census data shows the state’s cost per public worker is the second highest in the nation, trailing only California. State employees in Connecticut earn an average of $10,000 more than their counterparts in Massachusetts and $5,000 more than New York and New Jersey. Structural change to funding ratios of state employee benefits and teachers pensions is the long-term solution.
Many local pundits felt the governor’s deal with state employee unions was once again kicking the can down the road. As it turned out, the new labor agreement, which was ratified along party lines, would change the dynamic of the budget negotiations.
Very little was accomplished over the summer as Connecticut drifted into its fourth month without a budget package. There seemed to be no end in sight at the Capitol. Lawmakers were meeting nearly every day in October to look for bipartisan agreement now without Gov. Malloy involved in the process.
Then, a mini miracle occurred on Nov. 2 when a handful of moderate Democrats helped pass a Republican budget. It may not be perfect and the process was messy at times, but its bipartisan evolution was historic.
Hopefully, this is a sign of better days to come here in the land of steady habits.
From all of us at Connecticut Food Association, a heartfelt wish of health and happiness this holiday season to all of you in the grocery community.