July 8, 2008, the Brattleboro Reformer, by Reformer Staff
The new fiscal year for the state of Vermont began last week with the announcement that 150 jobs would be eliminated.
The list of eliminated jobs released by Gov. James Douglas' administration included a deputy commissioner in the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living, a prison superintendent and 35 positions that were authorized and funded but never filled. Most of those jobs were associated with Catamount Health, the new state's insurance program for uninsured Vermonters. The anticipated savings for the cuts is $8.9 million.
Another 250 jobs are scheduled to be cut by the end of December. The 400 positions are being cut as workers retire or leave state government. No layoffs are expected as yet, but some may be necessary if attrition does not achieve the requested reductions.
There is an ongoing debate about whether cutting this many people from the state's payroll will affect the delivery of services. But the more interesting part of this story was provided by Progressive Party gubernatorial candidate Anthony Pollina.
Pollina said that the state government awarded about $280,000 in bonuses to more than 100 state workers in the past year, including top executive officials such as George Crombie, the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, Secretary of Commerce Kevin Dorn and Douglas spokesman Jason Gibbs.
Pollina questioned why Douglas gave out merit bonuses while planning to eliminate state jobs and freezing the salaries of other workers. With the deteriorating economy and increased demands on state agencies, he said the state should be adding jobs, not cutting them.
While the merit bonuses were first awarded in June 2007, months before the full extent of the state's economic troubles were known, and there will be no pay increases or bonuses in fiscal 2009 for employees who earn more than $60,000, Pollina's charge has some sting to it. It shows once again the Douglas administration's penchant for putting public relations ahead of policy.
And speaking of public relations, notice that none of the administration's "communicators" are slated to see their positions cut. It costs taxpayers close to $800,000 a year for the 14 people charged with spreading the spin for Gov. Douglas. At a time when essential services are facing budget cuts, having 14 "communicators" seems rather indulgent to us.
That's why Pollina suggested that Gov. Douglas consider cuts in middle-management jobs or some of the administration's PR people instead of front-line workers.
"Like a hedge fund or Wall Street firm, the Douglas administration has given those at the top a bonus while those at the bottom lose their shirts," Pollina said at a news conference last week.
We agree. But in response, the Douglas administration did the same thing it always does when someone questions its policies -- it blamed the "out of the mainstream" and "out of touch" Democratic majority in the Legislature for the poor economy that caused the cuts, and brushed off criticism about the bonuses.
But the administration can't blame the Legislature for this one. It authorized the bonuses. It's keeping its high-salaried PR people on the public payroll. Distracting voters with the tired old "Democrats are out of touch" song and dance isn't going to work, especially when it looks like Gov. Douglas is the one who's out of touch when it comes to running Vermont.