July 2, 2008, the Burlington Free Press, by Nancy Remsen
MONTPELIER — The Douglas administration released the list of 150 state jobs that were eliminated as of Tuesday, part of its two-step initiative to shrink state government to a more sustainable size.
As of Tuesday, state government had 8,262 filled positions.
Another 250 jobs are scheduled for elimination by the end of December — all without layoffs. Jobs are considered for elimination as workers retire, transfer or leave state government.
The list of eliminated jobs includes a deputy commissioner in the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living; a prison superintendent; and 35 positions that were authorized, funded but never filled. Many of the never-filled slots were associated with Catamount Health, the state’s new insurance program for previously uninsured Vermonters.
State officials gave managers targets — the anticipated number of cuts that would come from each agency and department. The Agency of Agriculture and Natural Resources Board received byes on their targets because they had no turnover. The two cuts expected from Agriculture and the one projected for the board were met with cuts from the Agency of Transportation and departments of finance and human resources.
The cuts were intended to save money now and in the future. The 150 just-announced cuts will save $8.9 million in the new fiscal year that began Tuesday. State officials wanted at least half of savings to be state dollars.
Finance Commissioner Jim Reardon said Tuesday, “We achieved all the savings necessary that we booked in the budget.”
The Douglas administration promised when it announced the job-elimination plan last fall that all 400 positions could be cut without affecting services provided to Vermonters. Deputy Secretary of Administration Linda McIntire asserted again Tuesday, “We believe that to be true.”
Legislative leaders remained skeptical, although they hadn’t reviewed the first list.
Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Susan Bartlett, D-Lamoille, predicted that after the Legislature’s fiscal experts analyze the 150 cuts, “To say there will be no impact on services will not be accurate.”
“The fundamental issue is not the downsizing of state government,” Bartlett said. “What needs to happen is to be honest about what the impact will be.”
The Vermont State Employees Association concluded the cuts would hurt public services.
“VSEA has reviewed the list and it took very little time for us to find multiple positions that, left unfilled, will negatively impact many Vermonters,” VSEA interim director Michael Casey said.
The union noted that the justification given for eliminating many slots was that the work could be done by other employees.
“There are only so many hours in the day, and VSEA is concerned that the administration, in an effort to reach their magic 150 number, conveniently shuffled job duties to other staff. Because state employees assigned new duties have the right by contract to request a reclassification, VSEA will be advising affected employees to do so.”
McIntire countered that managers used the job-cut mandate to explore more efficient ways to do core missions. “It has been a good exercise,” she said. “Tough economic times just make you more efficient.”
McIntire added, “There is so much we have done with technology and this forced people to embrace it.”
Some positions had been vacant for long periods — more than a year for almost one-third of the openings, McIntire said. Departments had operated so long without those services that managers decided they could eliminate the positions.
For example, the Department of Human Resources had tried to recruit a wellness nurse since February 2007 — without success, McIntire said. Now the slot has been cut.
State managers have received new targets for the second round of cuts — again to be made by attrition.
“It’s going to be tough,” McIntire said. “People choked when they saw their targets.” The Agency of Human Services, for example, is expected to trim 90 more slots. Its first target was 98.
McIntire predicted a high number of retirements this summer and added, “Today, there are 441 vacancies in state government, so there are opportunities out there.”
Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, argued that downsizing state government through attrition is a recipe for disaster. “I think the administration approached the job cuts with the same level of planning as President Bush did in invading Iraq.
“You don’t know who is going to retire. Some of them are in critical positions.”
The Legislature has required the Douglas administration to check in with the Joint Fiscal Committee in the fall — before finalizing the next 250 cuts.
Other budgeting decisions have or will result in layoffs.
The Douglas administration proposed a budget for the Department of Corrections that forced the elimination of nine jobs. Those workers were notified in January when the budget was submitted to the Legislature, Deputy Commissioner Andrew Pallito said.
The prison shuffling now under way — closing the Dale unit in Waterbury, moving all women to St. Albans and turning Windsor into a male work camp – eliminates another 40-45 jobs.
Four people lost jobs in the Department of Commerce as a result of a $500,000 budget cut. The positions are all information technology slots, said David Mace, commerce spokesman.
Those layoffs surprised lawmakers. “We were never told that the result of that would be RIFs,” Bartlett said. RIFs stands for reduction in force. State workers will feel the pinch of other belt-tightening. Travel is restricted. Pay was frozen for a year for employees with annual salaries of $60,000 or more.
The budget directs the Douglas administration to pare $250,000 from spending on nonunion staff and $2.3 million from the budget for temporary and contract workers. This is an election year, so the Douglas job-cut plan has become fodder in the gubernatorial race.
Anthony Pollina, a Progressive seeking to unseat Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, said eliminating 400 positions was the wrong strategy.