Senior members of Gov. Dannel Malloy’s administration and public sector labor union leaders met today for the first of what will be many discussions about state employee wages and benefits over the coming months.

The Governor wants $1 billion in labor savings, a key element in his proposal to close Connecticut’s $3.2 billion budget deficit. He needs $1.8 billion in total spending cuts to accompany a proposed $1.5 billion package of tax increases.

Public sector wages and benefits total about $5.4 billion. The Governor has said the state cannot afford the current level of state employee pay and benefits, noting “we're going to need to make headway with our employees on returning to a sustainable system of compensation and benefits.”

The debate over public union salaries and benefits is a national one, and in that context, it is interesting to compare Connecticut with other states.

The compensation gap

According to reports published today, state and local government workers in 41 states earn more than their private sector peers.

Connecticut public employees earn an average $77,697 in wages and benefits. Only workers in the District of Columbia ($82,607) earn more. South Dakota government workers earn the lowest of any state, $41,684—or $16,000 below the national average.

The compensation gap, the difference between what public and private employees earn, also is illuminating. Connecticut’s public sector workers earn an average $7,687 more than their peers in the private arena—the sixth greatest differential, behind only Nevada, Rhode Island, Florida, California, and Hawaii.

By contrast, Massachusetts public workers earn $4,688 less than private sector employees.

Most support employee concessions

And, as the debate continues across the country, public opinion does not support government sector unions, according to a Quinnipiac University Poll released today.

That poll found 63 percent of Americans support budget proposals making public employees pay more for their benefits and retirement programs, while 31 percent oppose such measures.