Lawmakers approve state worker pay raises, but can CT afford it?

Republicans don’t think the state can afford it, but Democrats insist the raises could actually save taxpayers money.

John Craven

Apr 23, 2024, 9:31 PM

Updated 27 days ago


Around 46,000 state employees are getting a raise for their fourth straight year. Connecticut lawmakers approved the agreement on Tuesday in a largely party-line vote.
Republicans don’t think the state can afford it, but Democrats insist the raises could actually save taxpayers money.
The pay hikes cover most of the state’s unionized workforce – including college professors, corrections officers and state highway engineers, among others.
Workers will get a 2.5% wage increase on July 1. Plus, most will get an additional 2% “step” increase for seniority, starting on Jan. 1.
“We want to make sure that we are able to attract the best workers to state service,” said Connecticut Senate President Martin Looney (D-New Haven). “We don’t want default workers that come to the state only because they’ve been unable to get employment somewhere else.”
The raises were actually negotiated in 2022, but the agreement allowed the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition to reopen negotiations in the final year. SEBAC said the agreement will keep experienced workers from leaving for the private sector.
“When legislators and the governor have to debate over the budget, they often forget to balance the cost of not investing in critical public services – from increases in the need for future social assistance programs to increased maintenance costs on critical infrastructure to a weakening workforce pipeline,” said SEBAC spokesperson Drew Stoner. “These failures to investment may not end up on the balance sheet at the Capitol, but they are deeply understood in the homes of Connecticut residents.”
The raises will cost about $190 million, according to the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA).
Most of the money is already budgeted – at least for the next year. But GOP lawmakers say the deal is too generous, with revenues declining and state agencies facing cost overruns.
“When you go out and talk to people on the streets, I guarantee you, you’re not getting a lot of people who are getting a 4 1/2% increase,” said state Rep. Tammy Nuccio (R-Tolland).
Democrats said that the private sector is seeing wage growth – and state jobs must stay competitive, especially after years of wage concessions.
“The average Connecticut private sector hourly earnings in February of ‘24 were up 4.6% from February of 2023,” said state Sen. Cathy Osten (D-Sprague).
Other Republicans wanted to tie the raises to workers returning to the office, instead of working remotely from home.
“Some of them are only going into the office one day a week,” said state Rep. Vin Candelora (R-North Branford), the Connecticut House Minority Leader. “My constituents can’t get [the Department of Social Services] on the telephone, and other state agencies.”
Republicans also argued that it’s unfair to pay state employees more, while nonprofit workers are still struggling.
“They are nonprofits who employ people, said state Sen. Tony Hwang (R-Fairfield). “Where is their fairness?”
Democratic leaders said the raises could actually save the state money. If the SEBAC forced the contract into arbitration, workers could have ended up with a much bigger pay hike because of inflation.
“We budgeted for this,” said state Rep. Mike D’Agostino (D-Hamden).
UConn and Connecticut State Colleges and Universities – which operates the state’s 16 regional universities and community colleges – are warning that the raises could force tuition hikes. Although most of the raises are already paid for in the state budget, OFA estimates they could cost colleges $70 million.
Connecticut House Speaker Matt Ritter pledged that lawmakers will cover the entire cost.
“All the money required to pay for the salaries at the CSU-CS system will be provided before we adjourn on May 8,” Ritter told reporters on Tuesday.
Lawmakers plan to use up to $300 million in remaining federal American Rescue Plan (ARPA) money for higher education, as well as nonprofits. But they may run into opposition from Lamont, who is wary of using ARPA for recurring costs like pay raises.
“I think that should not go to ongoing expenses,” he said on Monday. “It’s one-time money; it should go to one-time expenses.”

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