There are four caucuses in Connecticut’s General Assembly—the House and Senate Democrats, and the House and Senate Republicans—and last week the leader of each decided against reconvening the 2020 regular legislative session that had been scheduled to adjourn May 6.
The joint announcement cemented what most legislators knew long ago, that the COVID-19 crisis would zap hundreds of pending bills tackling topics that ranged from assisting victims of domestic violence to commercializing marijuana.
It’s likely that we’ll hold a special session, perhaps in late summer, to get our arms around completing essential tasks—most important, adjusting the second year of the biennial budget to match state revenues that are declining sharply. That duty has been difficult enough over the last decade, but the economic impact of this sprawling disaster is immense.
The current fiscal year—it ends June 30—will finish with a $530 million deficit that’s likely to be filled through a combination of federal assistance and the state’s $2.5 billion rainy day fund. Already, the governor has said next fiscal year’s deficit could at least double this one.
With that in mind, I’m somewhat surprised that Governor Lamont hasn’t taken more decisive action on an issue that’s gaining attention among both news reporters and residents who are active on social media: state employee raises that go into effect July 1. The pay increases will cost the state roughly $135 million, and many Connecticut residents have wondered whether we can afford that price tag at the onset of a long spell of financial uncertainty.
Whether you agree with all of his decisions or not, the governor has moved swiftly on many fronts since he closed schools, bars, and restaurants back in mid-March. More often than not, the thrust of his executive orders matched action implemented in other states.
If other states have taken steps on similar salary-related issues, shouldn’t Connecticut do the same? We could contemplate delaying these scheduled raises, reviewing the state’s financial condition in increments to determine whether our budget is stable enough to release them.
But I’m not sure that will happen. The governor was noncommittal on the subject during a news briefing recently, indicating that he’d think about the raises against the backdrop of the many Connecticut residents whose financial security has been obliterated by this crisis.
Meanwhile, the chief negotiator for state employee unions has, to put it politely, rejected the notion of delaying the scheduled pay increases to divert the money to support nonprofit social services agencies gasping under the weight of this pandemic.
If history is any indicator, state bureaucracy will prevail.
After all, this month Connecticut delivers the first of two “longevity” payments made annually to some government employees. The total price tag? Roughly $23 million a year.
When it comes to July’s raises, I hope the governor can, as he said, “achieve the right balance.”