Agencies warn Lamont of looming surge in state retirements

Governor-elect Ned Lamont

Governor-elect Ned Lamont

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Agency heads have told Connecticut’s incoming governor that large numbers of veteran employees will retire in the coming years, departures that could deal a blow to both institutional knowledge and state finances.

The Connecticut State Police could be among the most severely affected agencies, with as many as 401 of 970 troopers potentially eligible to retire by 2023, according to the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection’s transition memo to Gov.-elect Ned Lamont. The Associated Press obtained the memo through a Freedom of Information request.

Meanwhile, the Department of Public Health is predicting about 40 percent of its workers could be eligible to retire in the next two years.

“The state must prepare for significant immediate and long-term challenges, and that includes the threat of a substantial retirement surge,” Democratic State Comptroller Kevin Lembo told the AP in a written statement. “The ramifications could be considerable to the stability of the state’s pension funds, health plan and its workforce.”

Connecticut’s state employee pension plan has more than $21 million in unfunded future pension obligations. That’s in addition to unfunded liabilities in the retiree health care program. The Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth recently issued a report estimating fixed costs, which include primarily interest on debt, Medicaid and public employee retirement benefits, will consume 53 percent of the state budget by 2020.

Lembo’s office has begun a review to determine how mass retirements will affect efforts to reduce Connecticut’s unfunded pension and retiree health care obligations. Also, he said state agencies will need to prepare for the retirements by developing “new talent and institutional knowledge” in the coming years.

Scott DeVico, a spokesman for the emergency services department, said Acting Commissioner William J. Hackett has asked the Division of State Police “for a full report on the potential retirements” and a plan for sustaining adequately filled ranks. Keeping pace with attrition was listed in the department’s transition memo as one of its key projects, along with efforts to fill critical vacancies in a timely manner.

Lacey Rose, a spokeswoman for Lamont’s transition team, said the incoming governor is aware that Connecticut, like many states, faces a “significant change in its workforce” as the baby boomer generation gets closer to retirement age.

“The Governor-elect’s administration will work closely with agency and department leadership to ensure that this is a workforce transition and not a workforce disruption,” she said, adding that Lamont’s administration will take “deliberate steps to retain valuable institutional knowledge and develop hiring plans that attract the best and the brightest to public service.”

Looming changes to state employee benefits and an aging workforce are driving the surge. The average age of the more than 44,600 full-time workers across state government is approximately 48 years old, according to an Aug. 6 analysis provided by the Office of Policy and Management.

The office has estimated that roughly 40 percent of existing staff could potentially be retiring by 2022. That’s when various cost-saving measures negotiated in a 2017 labor concession deal between the state and unionized state workers take effect, such as cost of living adjustments to pensions.

In addition to the predicted departures at the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, the following significant retirements were noted by the state agency transition memos obtained by the AP:

— The Department of Public Health, which reported 680 full- and part-time employees on its payroll, predicted as many as 274 workers will be eligible for retirement in the next two years.
— The Department of Rehabilitative Services predicted that, of its 455 full-time equivalent positions, 93 people will be eligible to retire on or before July 1, 2020.
— The Department of Labor projected 61 employees out of 578 could be eligible to retire by Jan. 1, 2021. While that number of possible retirees is slightly smaller than past years, the report notes how the agency’s workforce is inching closer to retirement age. As of Jan. 1, 2019, the average age of a Department of Labor employee will be about 52.

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