Paid Family Medical Leave (FMLA) has been a hotly debated topic again this legislative session. During my experience as a legislator, there are many instances where the legislature takes up issues that look good at face value, but after scratching the surface, many issues arise proving these ideas to be impractical. Although proposals like statewide paid FMLA are well-intended, the effects of implementing such a program would be detrimental.
Paid FMLA allows employees to take paid time off in order to heal from an illness or care for loved ones or close family friends. Current proposals regarding paid FMLA in Connecticut call for the program to be funded by a 0.5 percent payroll tax. I firmly believe that paid FMLA is an important program and I hope that before this concept is called for a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives that both Republicans and Democrats can work together to reach a compromise. I am hoping to support an FMLA program for individuals who need it, but cannot support the current plan before the legislature.
Back in February when proposals to provide paid statewide FMLA received a public hearing, I conducted a poll to get an idea of how they felt about this issue. Results from this online survey suggest that the majority of residents in Madison and Durham say they cannot afford this type of payroll tax. In fact, 74 percent of my constituents said that they would not be in favor of an employee payroll tax that is automatically deducted from their paycheck to fund a state-run paid family leave program. 7.74 percent of constituents said they might support this type of program, depending on the amount being deducted, and 18 percent noted that they support this program. More information about the current proposals regarding FMLA can be found by searching for Senate Bill 881 (Governor Lamont’s proposal) and House Bill 5003 (the Legislature’s Bill) on the General Assembly’s website at www.cga.ct.gov.
A concern I have regarding paid FMLA legislation as currently written is that it allows the Commissioner of Labor to increase the tax deducted from one’s paycheck in the event that a 0.5 percent payroll tax is not enough to fund the program. For example, under the current proposal, if more than two percent of the labor force uses the program, it will become insolvent and cause the tax to be raised.
On top of that, all private-sector employees in Connecticut would have to contribute to the state-run, mandated trust fund that would allow qualified employees to draw their salary for up to 12 weeks of paid time off. Consider how this would impact business owners that are also the sole employee. I fear that mandating this program on employees as a payroll tax-funded mandate will burden those who may never use FMLA, and would force Connecticut’s businesses to carry the burden of growing government regulation and expense. This program would require 100 new costly state workers with huge pensions and related healthcare costs just to get the program up and running. At the state level, the best thing we can do now is cut spending and use existing revenue to support Connecticut’s employees, not implement new taxes on our already overtaxed, hard-working citizens, and further stunt growth in our state’s workforce.
I wholeheartedly believe that FMLA is a worthy program, but I have reservations concerning the cost of administration, sustainability of the fund, potential fraud and abuse of this program. Mandating this program is not a business-friendly approach and doing so would be an indicator of more government overreach in a state that cannot afford to lose businesses, or prevent new businesses from coming here.
I have joined my Republican colleagues in once again proposing an FMLA program that would serve as an optional alternative to provide critical coverage for families without burdening individual taxpayers with a mandatory and onerous new payroll tax. As a more affordable alternative, we have proposed a program that would establish a tax credit for employers that provide paid FMLA and would allow families to establish tax-exempt FMLA savings accounts. This alternative would enable workers to qualify for paid family and medical leave while treating such leave as an employment benefit, not a state mandate. Instead of a mandate, employers would be empowered to offer the benefit to employees as they do other types of insurance. It would further empower employees to purchase such coverage if they found it beneficial to their family circumstances.
Connecticut should allow businesses to treat this benefit like an insurance product and offer coverage if their situation allows them to do so. We should not mandate its use; but instead should empower businesses to make their own decisions.
State Representative Noreen Kokoruda (R-Madison and Durham)