Public Workforce Is Major Target of Budget-Cutters

By: - January 12, 2011 12:00 am


BELEAGUERED UNIONS: Anger against public employee unions has surged, and is setting the stage for showdowns in a number of states as legislatures convene. Illinois seems to be getting a head start. A bill seeking to limit certain workers’ rights to join a collective bargaining unit is moving quickly through the lame duck session of the  Illinois General Assembly, and may even become law before that body adjourns later today. The bill passed the House on Monday, reports The State Journal-Register , and would make it easier for executive branch officials to have workers reclassified as non-union employees.

THREATENED WORKFORCE: Meanwhile, it hasn’t taken long for new governors in both parties to begin targeting state workers in their proposals for serious budget reduction. In his first major public speech, New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo called for a one-year freeze on state pay and a 20 percent reduction in the number of state agencies, authorities and departments.  Iowa Republican Governor-elect Terry Branstad is reviewing all new hires for possible no-cause probationary period dismissal — including about 900 employees who were brought on to fill key vacancies left after more than 2,000 longtime employees took an early retirement offer last summer. And Jerry Brown, the new Democratic governor of California, is calling for a continuation of “furlough Fridays” and a 10 percent pay cut for many state employees.

REALIGNING RESPONSIBILITIES: Brown also wants to “realign” a whole range of services — giving responsibility back to counties for everything from mental health programs to adult parole and incarceration of lower-level offenders. His ideas are being met with cautious support from local leaders, the Sacramento Bee reports . “Done right, it’s potentially workable,” Nick Warner, legislative director of the California State Sheriffs’ Association, told the Bee . “Done wrong, it will have potentially devastating public safety effects.” A key concern among county officials is whether funding for the plan — which relies on voter renewal of a package of taxes — will pass later this year. 

TRIMMING BUREAUCRACY:  Connecticut’s  Democratic governor, Dan Malloy, was told by his transition team that one of the state’s problems was too many managers. Connecticut has more supervisors per employee than any other state or most of the private sector. It’s been alleged that Connecticut has one supervisor for every six workers, while the typical ratio is 1:12 in other states and 1:16 in the private sector. “I don’t need any more experts in over-management,” Malloy said in a recent Q&A session with reporters. “I got enough of those. I don’t need any experts in surplus employment. I got enough of those. Having said that, this is not necessarily a time that you want to push people out into a job market that doesn’t exist. So it will be a balancing act.”

WAR ON RED TAPE: One of Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott’s first moves on the job was to issue an executive order freezing all new rules currently working their way through the state’s regulatory pipeline, the Miami Herald reports . The move is an attempt to fulfill a campaign promise to eliminate what he considers “job-killing regulations.” But it may bring some unintended consequences if the administration’s review of possible exceptions doesn’t happen quickly. The Florida Lottery relies on regular approval of new rules to launch certain games each month — and some of those approvals are scheduled to come next week. Another affected rule is one to deal with sinkholes that might result from farmers’ attempts to salvage their crops during the recent freeze. 


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Melissa Maynard

Melissa Maynard oversees the Pew state fiscal health project’s Fiscal 50 online resource, which helps policymakers understand fiscal, economic, and demographic trends affecting their states by tracking tax revenue, reserves, employment rates, Medicaid spending, and other issues important to long-term fiscal health.