–by Thomas Hooker
At a town hall meeting in Greenwich on March 31st hosted by Republican state representatives Lile Gibbons (R-150), Livvy Floren (R-149), and Fred Camillo (R-151), and Republican state senators L. Scott Frantz (R-36) and John McKinney (R-28) Representative Floren emphatically asserted that the state doesn’t need to raise taxes, because it can easily cut spending sufficiently on its bloated state government workforce. Representative Floren stated that Connecticut’s state government employs more workers per capita than any other state in the nation. Senator L. Scott Frantz backed her up, stating that there were “multiple sources” for her contention.
Really? Let’s take a look at the facts, shall we?
According to data in the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2009 Statistical Abstract of the United States, Connecticut employed 62,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees in 2006, the latest year for which it listed data. That translated into 17.8 state employees per 1,000 population. The figure ranks Connecticut not tops in the nation, but 23rd. In other words, Representative Floren’s claim is nowhere close to the truth. Furthermore, also using data from the Census Bureau’s 2009 Abstract, a look at staffing levels of local governments in the state shows that all of Connecticut’s municipalities together employed 126,000 FTE employees in 2006. That translates into 36.1 FTE employees per 1,000 population. That figure ranks the Nutmeg State 38th lowest nationwide (the lower the rank, the more efficient the staffing levels, or the lower the services rendered).
To understand the overall efficiency of a state’s staffing, it is important to examine combined state and local employees. By that measure, Connecticut employed 53.9 public workers per 1,000 population in 2006. That ranks the state 29th nationally. In other words, Connecticut’s state government stands slightly higher than the national average in terms of staffing levels, but if we look at total public sector employment at both the state and local levels, Connecticut ranks among the more efficient in the country in terms of staffing. Furthermore, far from state employment metastasizing out of control, as claimed by Republicans, the same Census Bureau data show the opposite to be the case. Analyzing Census Bureau information on headcount for the period from 2000 through 2006, we see that Connecticut was one of ten states that reduced the total number of their state employees. It also achieved one of the largest reductions in the nation, shrinking by 4,000 employees over that period.
Not only is Connecticut relatively efficient in terms of staffing, the same is the case for New England as a whole. As Nick Turner and E. Matthew Quigley, economic researchers for the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, concluded in their 2005 study titled “Do New England State and Local Governments Have Too Many Employees and are they Overpaid?”:
“The picture that emerges from these statistics is one of a relatively lean and competitive public sector workforce in New England. Compared with the nation, New England employs fewer public workers per capita, and the salaries of these workers represent a smaller share of the personal income of state residents… While the average salary of the region’s state and local employees is relatively high, as a percentage of personal income New England’s total public sector payroll is relatively low…” These findings “are hard to reconcile with the characterization sometimes made that the region’s public sector is too large or bloated, or that the average state or local employee is overpaid.”
Their research on state and local employment in the region found that Connecticut ranks in the middle of the six New England states in terms of headcount per capita at the state level, and fifth lowest of the six in terms of municipal employment per capita. In terms of government payroll, a similar picture emerges. As a percentage of average personal income, spending on state workers’ salaries ranked the state fourth lowest in the region. Local government spending as a ratio of personal income was fifth lowest in New England. Combined state and local government salaries on that measure shows Connecticut to be substantially lower than both national and regional averages.
So however you slice it, Representative Floren’s and Senator Frantz’s suggestion that Connecticut’s state government is the most overstaffed in the nation is pure baloney. It is frankly shocking that our state representatives are so woefully out of touch with Connecticut’s basic fiscal facts. If our Republican representatives and senators cannot be bothered to learn budget basics, they might prefer to simply sit quietly on the sidelines and let leaders who have done their homework take the lead in attempting to solve our state’s fiscal problems.