Whitman’s job-cut pledge questioned | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Whitman’s job-cut pledge questioned

Juliet Williams
Associated Press Writer

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman insists she can, if elected, start saving California money by eliminating 40,000 state government jobs.

Given the dynamics of state employment, however, that campaign promise might be difficult to back up.

The governor has authority over just 57 percent of the state work force, with the rest of the employees working in departments not completely beholden to the state’s general fund. Moreover, Whitman has promised to avoid cuts to what she calls “front-line” public safety employees, limiting her options.

Depending on how her thinking evolves, Whitman’s pledge would mean eliminating anywhere from 20 percent to one-third of the work force under her control.

Whitman based her goal of eliminating 40,000 state government positions on the health of California’s general fund, which is facing a $20 billion deficit. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest budget proposal anticipates $83 billion in general fund spending in the fiscal year that starts July 1, down from nearly $103 billion in 2007-08.

The last time California’s general fund spending was at roughly the same level was during the 2004-05 fiscal year. At that time, the state also had about 42,000 fewer workers.

Whitman characterizes that level of state spending as the “new normal.”

Her spokeswoman, Sarah Pompei, said Whitman favors paring the work force through attrition, or leaving positions open when workers leave, rather than layoffs or forced retirements.

Whitman has not specified which departments she would trim. Pompei said she would need to review state operations if elected to figure out where that would occur.

“There is no question that if she is elected, Meg will need to evaluate where the work-force attrition is occurring and devise a strategy that prioritizes efficiency without setting back the delivery of services,” she said in a statement.

The governor, working with the Legislature, has authority over 202,000 employees out of a total state government work force of 356,000.

Of that number, about 77,000 work for the California Highway Patrol and Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, areas Whitman said she would mostly protect even though they account for much of the growth in state employees in recent years.

About 17,000 of the 42,000 jobs added to the state payroll over the last five years have been in California’s youth and correctional agency, including thousands of prison guards. Tucker Bounds, a spokesman for her campaign, said Whitman hopes to accelerate the number of California inmates sent to out-of-state prisons, thereby reducing the number of prison guards needed.

During a recent meeting of law enforcement groups, Whitman said the CHP has not grown measurably over the last five years. The agency has grown more than 12 percent during that period, from 10,046 employees in 2004-05 to an estimated 11,289 this fiscal year.

That leaves 125,000 employees working for departments under the governor’s control, including transportation, environmental protection and health and human services.

The jobs of the 154,000 other state employees can be put at risk indirectly if the governor and lawmakers agree to cut the budgets of their agencies.

Further complicating Whitman’s plan is that about 12,000 of the employees who are new to state government over the past five years work in the University of California and California State University. The governor’s office does not have direct authority over either higher education system, although it can recommend cutting their budgets.

Whitman also has pledged to boost funding for UC and CSU by $1 billion if elected.

Bounds said Whitman would work with the chancellors of both systems to look for cuts in the support and administrative ranks while protecting faculty and research positions.

Whitman has declined to specify what departments she would target for staff reductions, telling The Associated Press in February that she would offer more specifics later in the campaign.

Her campaign insists she will pursue cuts across the state work force, including the university systems.

“It becomes a very achievable number,” Bounds said. “There will be naysayers, but it’s impossible to believe that California can’t return its state work force back to where it was in 2004-2005 when it had a revenue stream to pay for it.”

The campaign claims the state loses 10,000 to 12,000 workers a year through attrition and that eliminating those positions could save the state more than $3 billion a year. The campaign said it consulted “policy experts” to arrive at the figures.

The state Department of Personnel Administration says about 9,400 employees retired from service last year, a figure that does not incorporate younger workers who left. It was slightly higher than in other recent years.

No agency tracks what areas of state government they leave, however. That makes it impossible to assess whether the workers who left are ones that Whitman’s campaign believes could be eliminated, are part of the essential services she vows to protect such as the CHP or fire protection, or work in agencies that would not be under her control.

Whitman’s proposal has been criticized by her rival for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner.

His spokesman, Jarrod Agen, said Whitman’s original plan called for cutting jobs that were funded only through the general fund. When she realized she could not keep that promise while also protecting safety, Whitman added other state employees who are paid from special funds, such as the university systems, Agen said.

“That’s just firing people for the sake of firing them. You’re not going to reduce the general fund deficit by cutting special funds jobs,” Agen said. “The major issue is: Meg Whitman’s never clarified where these 40,000 jobs will come from. The reality is you can’t cut 40,000 jobs without compromising public safety.”

Poizner has called for a “top-down review and overhaul” of government operations.

Whether California’s work force needs to shrink at all is an open question. During the time its government work force grew by 42,000, California added about 2.4 million residents.

Using U.S. Census data from 2008, the Palo Alto-based Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy reported that California is tied with Florida for having the second-lowest number of full-time equivalent state workers relative to its population in all 50 states – or 103 state workers per 10,000 residents.

Illinois had the lowest ratio, at 100 workers.

California’s overall state work force could be reduced even before the next governor takes office in January 2011, making the job far easier for the next governor.

Schwarzenegger has said he will end his three-day-a-month furloughs in June, instead favoring a 5 percent reduction in staff, pay and state contributions to public pensions. His personnel department estimates those cuts are on track, reducing the work force by 11,000 within a year.

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