Douglas may cut state jobs

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(Host) Governor-elect Jim Douglas says he’s taking a serious look at reducing the size of the state’s workforce as a way to balance next year’s budget.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) In the next few weeks, the budget team of Governor-elect Jim Douglas will put together the key elements of the new administration’s proposed budget for the 2004 fiscal year. Douglas says many departments of state government will be leveled funded next year and some will actually experience cuts. The governor-elect says three priority areas will receive more money: higher education, economic development and law enforcement.

While Douglas is reluctant at this time to identify any specific programs that might be cut, he is making it clear that he wants his budget team to seriously look at reducing the number of people who work for the state as a way to cut spending:

(Douglas) “I have indicated that I believe we can tighten our belts in state government during a three-year period. At the end of the last decade, we added over 800 state employee positions to the government of our state and I think we need to look at opportunities to reduce the size of our state government. So that’s not a specific policy area but I believe we have opportunities to do things more effectively than we do now.”

(Kinzel) The head of the Vermont State Employees Association, Annie Noonan, is disappointed by Douglas’s comments. Noonan says a Blue Ribbon Commission concluded several years ago that the state was holding down the number of full-time workers by relying on consultants and temporary employees who were not given any benefits. Noonan says the state then did the right thing and hired many of these temporary employees on a full-time basis:

(Noonan) “State government shouldn’t be afraid to be the model employer for the rest of the state. And it’s not as though we haven’t felt the pain – we cut 88 jobs in September and we’ve got 300 vacancies right now. So we’ve been doing the belt tightening and we’ve been doing the working short staffed and picking up the slack and carrying more caseloads and plowing snow with less people on the roads. The state employees have been doing that.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says he also wants to look at restructuring a number of Human Service programs as part of his overall plan to balance the state budget.

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

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