DET commissioner answer lawmakers on staff cuts

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(Host) The Douglas administration has agreed to postpone until next month a decision to lay off 30 workers at the State Department of Employment and Training. A number of Democratic senators on the Joint Fiscal Committee were critical of the administration’s original decision to make the cuts.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The administration argues the cuts are needed because of new reductions in the federal budget. Many of the positions at DET are funded using federal dollars. But a number of Democratic senators feel the cuts make no sense because the state is dealing with layoffs at IBM and several smaller companies.

DET Commissioner Ann Ginevan was grilled by these senators at a special meeting of the Joint Fiscal committee at the Statehouse. Bennington Senator Dick Sears was upset that the administration failed to notify the Legislature about the possibility of these cuts last spring:

(Sears) “I’m frustrated on a couple of levels. One is that it seems like the department knew that there were problems back when the Senate was developing the budget itself and never came to us with those concerns and problems. The second is that it seems that the district I represent is getting hit very hard. A 38% drop in personnel in the DET office is going to have an impact on our employers’ ability to get people back to work. Also statewide, I don’t think it’s helpful to our economy to not have a full service Department of Employment and Training to get people back to work.”

(Kinzel) Commissioner Ginevan said her department is working on a plan to consolidate services in the state’s 12 district offices in an effort to save money. And she warned that layoffs at DET are likely in the future:

(Ginevan) “This is not a short term problem for us, so unfortunately we have to take drastic actions to be able to live with this into the future. If we do something today, it’s a Band-Aid unless you’re willing to commit to a great deal of money to fill in the hole. A Band-Aid solution is not going to help us next year or the following year. We’ll be back at this table doing exactly the same thing with reductions again. That’s what we’re trying to avoid by this program.”

(Kinzel) The Joint Fiscal Committee voted to delay the implementation of the cuts to allow the panel more time to explore alternative sources of revenue to make up the budget shortfall. The committee is now scheduled to revisit this issue in the beginning of October.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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