250 state jobs, currently unfilled, may be cut

Posted Jan. 14, 2011, at 5:12 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine – The LePage administration has begun “right-sizing the work force,” which means the possible elimination of 250 vacant state jobs.

Language in the supplemental state budget proposed Wednesday would authorize the administration to prepare a vacancy report to be presented to lawmakers by March 31.

The budget, for the rest of the fiscal year that ends June 30, will go to the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee for public hearings and will need approval from the House and Senate.

There are now 400 vacant jobs, and the administration would like to get rid of 250 of them, said Sawin Millett, acting commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services.

“We have put forward a target of eliminating 250 positions, and we are going to do this by looking at the total number of lines that have been vacant for more than a year,” he said. “Many of them have been vacant for two or more years.”

The Maine State Employees Association is happy to see that the supplemental budget “keeps people working,” but is concerned about the work force reduction that began under Gov. John Baldacci, said the association’s spokesman, Tom Farkas.

Over the last eight years, Baldacci reduced state positions by 1,000, mostly through attrition and a retirement incentive program. Baldacci also froze hiring, as Gov. Paul LePage has.

The result has been a shift of work to the remaining employees, many of whom are now overburdened, Farkas said. “Many of our workers are facing impossible workloads or caseloads,” he said.

Farkas cited increased funding for the state Medicaid program in the budget as an example of increased demand for services. Yet the workers who handle those services sometimes have a caseload of 900, he said.

“Everyone wants accountability, including our members, in all state services,” he said. “These family independence specialists need tools to do their jobs, and one of those tools is having a manageable caseload.”

During the campaign, LePage said he wanted to reduce the work force, now estimated at 13,000, by 10 to 15 percent. A cut of 250 workers would be about 2 percent, Millett said.

Millett will give a report to the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee — and, if necessary, the Transportation Committee — detailing which positions have been targeted for elimination and the amount of savings identified.

“That’s an early start to right-sizing the work force — and there will be more coming,” he said.

The administration will also consider consolidations, reassignments and a new retirement incentive program as ways to cut the work force.

Farkas said union members have a long list of proposals to help trim state spending, and union leaders hope to meet with LePage to discuss them.

“Our members have come up with hundreds of cost-saving ideas,” he said.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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