10/16/07

Gov. plans to cut mostly-empty positions

Months after vowing to cut 1,000 jobs, Governor Carcieri has announced the outlines of a plan to lay off 414 state employees, trim the state’s temporary employment rolls by another 115 workers and wipe 487 empty jobs off the state’s books.

The personnel cuts are a central piece of the governor’s plan to avert a projected $200 million deficit in the state budget year that begins on July 1. Carcieri did not detail which state workers face job cuts. In his presentation this afternoon, he did say every department would be affected.

"Out of respect for our employees who will be impacted, I will not be sharing more details today regarding the specific positions. The particulars as to the individual people and positions affected will be released as they have been notified," Carcieri said in his speech.

Before the speech, the governor’s staff would say only that the cuts would be focused on “back office” workers. For example, 115 positions would be cut among the five state health and human services departments, including jobs in human resources, information technology and finance, the governor’s Chief of Staff Brian Stern told reporters Friday.

The executive branch plans to begin notifying those contract employees affected on Nov. 1. State employees will be notified Nov. 15.

As for the 414 state employee positions to be eliminated, Carcieri said, "Positions have been identified in every department."

He also noted that not all the targeted jobs are union jobs.

Carcieri was expected to largely ignore the other elements of his deficit-reduction plan today: $50 million in cuts to social service programs and another $50 million in cuts to the health benefits of those employees who survive the layoffs.

Stern said that those cuts would be reflected in the governor’s budget proposal scheduled for release in February and throughout negotiations with unions whose contracts expire in the coming year.

Today’s press conference marks the attempt of a governor, with plummeting poll numbers, to take control of the Smith Hill spending debate months before lawmakers return to the State House and try to rehabilitate his image along the way.

After a September public-opinion survey by Brown University found his job approval rating had plunged since last January from 59 percent to 44 percent, Carcieri suggested the numbers were a reflection of voter concern “about our financial status.’’

He said people seeing teachers on strike, unions lobbing preemptive strikes against his vow to cut the state work force by 1,000, and headline after headline about the people affected by the legislature’s adoption of his proposals to lop thousands off the state’s child-care rolls leave people “feeling as though the state isn’t running itself well because of the budget.’’

Meanwhile, labor laws are expected to complicate the governor’s staff reduction plans.

Carcieri will have no problem eliminating 115 contract employees, who have no union protections. But laying off 414 state employees would trigger seniority provisions outlined in workers’ contracts.

The executive branch can move to eliminate specific jobs, but the employees in those jobs generally have the right to move to vacant positions, or new jobs elsewhere in state government by “bumping” other workers from their jobs.

The legal challenges were illustrated when former Governor Sundlun issued layoff notices to more than 500 employees in 1992, trying to avert a huge deficit. Two months after notices went out, more than half of the targeted group still had jobs.

Governor Carcieri’s office acknowledges challenges, but Stern said that bumping rules have been relaxed since the early 1990s. Employees generally are allowed only three “bumps,” he said.

Labor unions have criticized the governor’s plan to cut 1,000 jobs since it was first announced last June for ignoring the additional cost to the state in expected social welfare costs.

The layoffs could result in $7.5 million in new costs to taxpayers for the unemployment and health-care benefits for displaced workers, according to Dan Majcher, supervisor of fiscal services for the Department of Administration.

“This number will vary based on many factors and again is a worst case estimate and assumes everyone would be eligible for full benefits,” he said this morning in an e-mail to The Journal.

Stern acknowledged Friday that the governor may be using a “conservative” estimate for the projected 2008-09 budget deficit. While his Budget Officer Rosemary Gallogly puts the projection at $211.3 million, the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council estimated the deficit at $306.5 million in June.

Since then, Gallogly said, assumptions have changed, caseload projections have dropped and lawmakers, in an unprecedented move, placed a virtual freeze on local school aid this year.

As an example, the outdated deficit-projection assumed new state employee contracts would provide the workers with a 2-percent across-the-board raise next year, according to Gallogly. Knocking that one assumption out cut the projected deficit by $26.8 million. Freezing school aid this year lowered the starting point for next year by another $19 million. And so on.

(projo.com)

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