The Douglas administration has put two options on the table for state employees to ponder. The choices are something lawmakers will have to consider as well as they write their versions of the budget.
To fill the big gap in tax revenues that has developed as a result of the slowing economy, Gov. Jim Douglas first suggested he would need to layoff 600 workers. Actually he proposed 660 layoffs of which 60 were spelled out within his budget. The other 600 were to be identified later.
Wednesday, the administration identified 320 jobs that it was prepared to eliminate -- a lot fewer than the previously announced 600 because the administration would be willing to find some of the $17 million in payroll savings by going along with a concession the Vermont State Employees Association put on the table. Namely, a pay freeze -- no cost-of-living increase and no step increases.
Douglas made clear minutes ago that layoffs aren't his preference. He'd rather reduce state payroll expenses by asking state workers making more than $30,000 to take 5 % pay cuts and to pay 30%, rather than 20% of the cost of the health insurance premiums.
Administration officials have stressed they are looking for ongoing payroll savings, so the pay and benefit rollbacks wouldn't be restored when (not if, we hope) good times return.
The layoffs, by contrast, would create lasting changes since many involve discontinuing some service or program. For example, 67 jobs Correction Department jobs would be eliminated by closing the prison in St. Johnsbury
The list of specific job cuts is 18 pages long and there are lots of impacts that have yet to be discerned. Secretary of Administration Neale Lunderville
highlighted several -- no more red-meat inspection, and reduced inspections of milk. Elimination of the Public Oversight Commission that reviews hospital capital budgets and certificates of need. Elimination of the home school program, with responsibilities (and some money) shifted to local school districts. Elimination of a solid
waste program that reviewed permit applications and certification requests for transfer stations, again with responsibility and dollars distributed to local entities
The 320 job cuts would save $11.2 million. The pay and benefit cuts would produce about the same savings. Choose your poison.
Learning that their jobs were on the line was harsh for 320 folks. One person called me, crying and not sure where to turn.
Rep. Michael Fisher, D-Lincoln, complained that telling the workers yesterday was cruel since it's not a done deal. He sees it as a negotiating tactic, a way to put pressure on the union.
On the other hand, how can the union or lawmakers weigh the impact of proposed job cuts without knowing what jobs would be cut?
Another caller said the union and administration shouldn't be limiting themselves to these two options. Why not consider a shortened work week for a few years until the economy rebounds. That would give everyone time to consider and carry out more thoughtful restructuring
, the caller said.
No easy answers here.
-- Nancy Remsen