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In Conn., a flood of ideas, e-mails

Governor sought input on savings; State faces deficit of $3.67 billion

Governor Dannel P. Malloy asked for suggestions from state workers on how to improve efficiency and cut the budget. He received nearly 150 e-mails on his first full day in office. Governor Dannel P. Malloy asked for suggestions from state workers on how to improve efficiency and cut the budget. He received nearly 150 e-mails on his first full day in office. (Jessica Hill/ Associated Press)
By Susan Haigh
Associated Press / January 10, 2011

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HARTFORD — Trimming top-heavy management, scrutinizing money spent on overtime, and discontinuing leases for building space are among the budget-cutting ideas reaching Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s inbox.

Facing a state deficit projected to top $3.6 billion, Malloy asked government employees by e-mail for suggestions on how to improve efficiency shortly after the Democrat took office Wednesday.

“These are tough times; there’s no doubt about it. But they will get better if we make strategic, smart decisions and commit to a shared sacrifice to get our state back on track again,’’ Malloy wrote to the workers. “I believe state employees must play a pivotal role in that process.’’

The suggestions have been flowing in ever since.

A nurse was among many state workers who told Malloy they are willing to continue taking off days without pay — continuing the labor concession reached between the former governor, M. Jodi Rell, and the state employee unions in 2009.

“As an employee at the University of Connecticut Health Center we found that taking furlough days not only benefited the state budget but also morale at work,’’ the nurse wrote.

Several other employees suggested the state stop printing pay stubs for workers whose paychecks are deposited directly into their bank accounts.

“Most companies eliminate the pay stub for employees who sign up for direct deposit. Why doesn’t Connecticut?’’ asked a University of Connecticut employee.

Malloy’s office said he received nearly 150 e-mails on Jan. 6, the day after he was sworn into office as the state’s 88th governor. While most offered congratulations, many made specific cost-cutting suggestions.

Malloy said he was heartened by the responses.

“I have found that if you support employees and make them partners, you celebrate their successes, you help to correct their mistakes, that they will reward you. Ultimately what they’ll do is reward you with greater efficiencies,’’ Malloy said.

The state’s new fiscal year, which begins July 1, is expected to be $3.67 billion in the red, or about 18 percent of estimated spending. Malloy and his administration are crafting a new, two-year budget. The governor is expected to present the plan to the Democratic-controlled General Assembly on Feb. 16.

On Friday, Malloy’s budget director, Benjamin Barnes, sent a letter notifying state employees of a Jan. 20 deadline for submitting their cost-saving concepts. While they might not make it into Malloy’s initial budget proposal, Barnes said they could still be pursued as the governor and Legislature hammer out a compromise in the coming months.

Unions say they began brainstorming well before Malloy took office.

Larry Dorman, a spokesman for a coalition of state employee unions, says the group has created subcommittees that are reaching out to unionized state workers and collecting ideas on ways to generate savings.

State employee unions endorsed Malloy during the gubernatorial campaign, pleased by his promises to listen to workers’ suggestions.

“He promised on the election trail he was going to seek savings from state employees and he’s making good on that promise,’’ Dorman said.

A letter to Malloy from employees at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School in Middletown, which was obtained separately by the Associated Press, suggested the new administration stop spending money on recreational equipment for the delinquent boys such as dirt bikes, football equipment, and video games.

The employees also recommended scaling back the number of management positions at the facility and review overtime usage.

Meanwhile, a Transportation Department worker suggested in an e-mail to Malloy that lunch breaks for employees at her agency be staggered. She said people often waste time waiting in long lines in the cafeteria, or leave for lunch early to beat the crowds.

“That amount of money really adds up and employees need to make up the time!!,’’ she wrote.

The e-mails, which came from some members of the general public as well as state employees, include some worried about possible tax increases.

One woman said she listened to the new governor’s inaugural address in which he spoke about the need for shared sacrifice and said she is worried he is “going to shove further taxes on the people of Connecticut’’ and how her family and thousands of others cannot afford to pay more taxes.

Malloy has not ruled out raising taxes to help balance the budget.

“Please leave our paychecks alone,’’ the woman wrote. “I hope that you will do the right thing and cut spending rather than ask the people of Connecticut to further support the excess in government.’’