HARTFORD -- The exodus of thousands of state employees registering for retirement benefits is exceeding Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's expectations, with more than 80 signing up for voluntary separation Friday afternoon.

Employees are resigning before early retirement benefits are reduced, beginning Saturday.

Malloy said he has instructed departmental and agency leaders to see how many positions may be refilled.

State Comptroller Kevin Lembo's office on Friday said that retirements for the year have topped 2,690, including 556 in September. During the day Friday, 80 applicants filed paperwork, but that could increase by Monday, when human resources managers in various departments finish processing applications and pass them on to Lembo.

"We are ahead of what we had projected in the number of retirements," Malloy said in response to a reporter's question."

But starting this month, those who choose early retirement will see diminished benefits, and the requirements for those seeking normal retirement will increase, including the number of years of service.

More than 4,700 state employees took an early retirement incentive package back in 2009, but Malloy noted that his agreement with unions can't be compared because he didn't offer concrete advantages, such as added years of service or bonuses, to leave.

"Suffice it to say we are ahead of what we had projected for the number of retirements," Malloy said. "I will point out to you that we did not incentivize retirements, which was something I said on Feb. 17 that I wouldn't do, yet we'll exceed the number we had anticipated."

He said that early retirement incentives put stress on state pension plans.

Over the summer, the state's 45,000 unionized employees, after first rejecting the proposal, agreed to pay higher amounts for health insurance and pensions and accept a two-year pay freeze in exchange for a four-year, no-layoff promise.

October and April are traditionally popular months for state employees to retire because cost of living adjustments are calculated to make it advantageous to leave in those months. Also, the deal with unionized state employees will drive up retirements because the current minimum COLA of 2.5 percent will be cut to 2 percent for those retiring in October, Lembo believes.

Early retirements, which now result in a 3 percent reduction in benefits, will see that reduction double to 6 percent in October.

Malloy said that Benjamin Barnes, secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, who is his budget chief, is discussing the vacancies with agency heads, including public safety, where 56 rookie state troopers were laid off, pending new openings.

"What we will do, and in very fast fashion in every single department, is to do an analysis of what the savings are, what savings we need to lock in, what positions need to be filled," Malloy said, "and we will fill positions that need to be filled. I don't want to prejudge that but clearly a portion of the vacancies that have been created since February, when we started to see a spike in retirements, will be filled, but not all of them," he said.

With 2,500 unfilled job vacancies, plus the near-record 2,700 retirements pending, Malloy will have latitude to hire new employees.

The state Department of Administrative Services reports that there were 3,665 new hires in 2006, 3,560 in 2007, 3,295 in 2008, 1,732 in 2009 following an early retirement incentive, 2,422 in 2010 and 1,119 up until Sept. 7 of this year.

The average of new hires from 2006 through 2010, is 2,935 per year.