Governor Promotes Efficiency, Republicans Suspect Ulterior Motives
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy isn’t up for re-election this year, but he issued a progress report Tuesday outlining what his administration has done to make state government more efficient and responsive.
At his monthly commissioners meeting Malloy had about a dozen of his executive agency heads give presentations on their efforts to modernize their departments. The hour-long presentation accompanied the report containing a total of 82 initiatives the administration says are beginning to make state government more productive and less wasteful.
Malloy said that when he took office he found state government bloated, broken, and inefficient. He said his administration has taken steps to remedy the problem but has encountered resistance along the way.
The governor said he hoped demonstrating the progress that’s been made will make people more receptive to further change.
“If we can show that the changes we already proposed are beginning to work, I think we’ll have an easier time when the legislature comes back in session in moving forward with an agenda of additional change,” Malloy said.
Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes said the administration has reduced the number of state employees by 5.4 percent, or 1,624 positions. Managerial staffing levels have been reduced by 14 percent, he said.
Barnes said some of the initiatives covered in the report have had financial benefits for the state. For instance, he said the administration has cut more than $2 billion in the current services budget and reduced long-term liabilities by more than $20 billion.
But the commissioners also touched on initiatives aimed at improving the delivery of services in their short presentations. Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Dan Esty said his agency has been able to reduce the waiting time for underground storage tank inspections from 47 days to around an hour and a half.
“It’s combination of a reconstructed process and application of mobile technology that allows us to do it all in one day,” Esty explained.
Acting Labor Commissioner Dennis Murphy said his department has begun using a phone system that lets clients opt to be called back by the agency or to make an appointment, rather than remain on hold. He’s said it’s been popular.
“In six months that we’ve done this we’ve saved 10 million minutes,” Murphy said, suggesting that the figure means they have saved the people of Connecticut “19.26 years waiting on hold” for services.
“My personal definition of hell,” Murphy added.
The 70-page report covers efforts from 26 separate state agencies. In some instances commissioners found savings by pooling their resources. State police were given keys to Transportation Department fueling stations rather than driving an hour in some cases to a Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection station.
“This was quite helpful. It allows our troopers to stay out in the patrol areas and makes for a much more efficient operation,” Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner Reuben Bradford said.
The Transportation Department was also due to upgrade its radio system, a project that would have cost $22 million. Instead, the department, along with the Correction Department and judicial marshals, were allowed to “piggyback” on the state police radio system, Bradford said.
But not all the initiatives in Monday’s report have been popular. The state police union, for instance, voted no confidence in Bradford and state police leadership after they moved forward with dispatch center consolidations and the “civilianization” of positions within the state police.
The changes moved officers trained for hazardous duty but who had been placed in administrative positions, back on patrol duty. However, the union claims the changes resulted in a reduction in the number of staff available to answer the phones and could impact public and trooper safety.
As he often does, the governor said “change is hard.”
“Other people buckled under pressure of being urged not to consolidate. That recommendation was made over 10 years ago,” Malloy said. “. . . We did not do that.”
Malloy said he was happy with the progress that’s been made but there was more work to be done. He said his office was in the process of formulating the next budget.
“So this is a time to talk about what we’ve accomplished as a prelude to what we need to address and effect in the next budget,” he said.
But Republicans questioned the timing of Malloy’s report given its proximity to the election. Senate Republican leader John McKinney said the report was an effort to provide political cover for Democrats seeking re-election after a term that saw the largest tax increase in state history.
“This is an attempt about a month away from the election cycle to protect Democrats,” McKinney said. “The undisputed fact that the governor continues to to fail to acknowledge is that he increased spending by $1.4 billion over the last two years. His legacy is not one of making government smaller.”
McKinney said he didn’t blame Malloy for the problems he inherited when he took office and conceded some positive changes have been made. But at the end of the day, the negatives outweigh those positives, he said.
McKinney questioned some of the figures included in the report like the $1.6 billion attributed to state employee concession savings, which he said was vastly overestimated. He also said the administration’s claim to have cut $2 billion from the current services budget was disingenuous.
“No small business owner or family would rely on a budget that revolves around what we’d like to spend, which is what the current services budget is,” he said.
Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s senior communication adviser, said McKinney and other Republicans criticizing the report were just frustrated because their party controlled the governor’s office for 16 years. That means it was their job to manage the state bureaucracy as it became more bloated and ineffective, he said.
“That was under their watch while they sat idly by and did nothing about it,” he said. “. . . For them to criticize the governor for trying to fix what their party broke is ridiculous.”
Occhiogrosso said Malloy was clear that more work needs to be done but it’s insulting to the state employees, who’ve implemented change, and Connecticut residents to not acknowledge the progress that’s been made.