Oregon Legislature set to erase 190 state government positions, mostly management SALEM -- About 190 positions, mostly mid-level managers, would be eliminated throughout Oregon state government under a proposal scheduled for action this week by the Legislature.
Most of the cuts would come in the health and human service agencies and to prisons and state police. Although the state often "reduces" its ranks by not filling vacancies, this round could involve dozens of
layoffs. It's all part of an effort to increase the ratio of line workers to managers in state government, which has been criticized as too top-heavy, and to shrink the size of the state workforce.
"They're certainly headed in the right direction," said Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, who worked with
two Democratic lawmakers to order up the cuts. Although the cuts are necessary to balance the current state budget, the bigger impact will be felt in future budgets, he said.
The number of positions to be eliminated represents a tiny fraction of the approximately 35,000 full-time state government workers -- a number that excludes higher education. But legislative budget-writers wanted
to make a point, and insisted on the cuts to the managerial ranks.
"Ultimately, it's about bringing down the cost of government so it's in line with our anticipated revenue," Richardson said.
Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, who worked with Richardson on the budget, said he had hoped the
agencies would find more jobs to trim, but he noted that 75 percent of the positions to be cut are in management. "I think it's going to work out quite well," he said.
In February, lawmakers ordered state agencies to find $28 million in cuts to managers, consultants and public relations positions, reasoning that those were the most superfluous given the state's hard-hit
budget. The Legislature left it up to the executive branch to determine the best way to find the reductions. Agency directors worked with the Legislative Fiscal Office to come up with a plan to carry out the cuts.
The plan is expected to be approved Wednesday by a legislative emergency board.
Michael Jordan, who serves as Gov. John Kitzhaber's chief operating officer and has oversight over the gamut of state agencies, said the plan follows the instructions laid down by the Legislature, but it undoubtedly will
affect the level of state services.
"There aren't any of these cuts that go without any impact," Jordan said. "There are very few, if any, managers in state government that just manage. They carry a part of the general workload with them, too."
For example, the Department of Corrections is slated to eliminate 24 "lieutenant" positions, which are considered management, as part of an overall reduction of 39 jobs. All those positions are currently filled, so
the end result will be layoffs, or workers with seniority "bumping" those with fewer years of service.
"Lieutenants, they walk the floors and are part of the security structure," Jordan said. "It isn't like they sit in an office somewhere and manage the guards."
In many cases, the workload simply will be shifted "downward," which could mean spending more on overtime, Jordan said. "Will we save money? Yeah. But there will be impacts," he said.
Elizabeth Craig, spokeswoman for the Corrections Department, said the agency is waiting for final approval of the plan by the legislative Emergency Board before shifting employees. The directions from the Legislature were to make the cuts without closing any prisons, without reducing treatment programs, and without reducing the ranks of union-represented members. "This is a tough situation," she said.
The biggest number of eliminated jobs is in the Department of Human Services, which will abolish a total of 63 positions out of a total of about 7,300 full-time employees, according to a memo by department director Erinn Kelley-Siel. However, none will be lost to layoffs, Kelley-Siel said. Instead, the agency will not fill vacant positions.
Richardson said he's fine with accomplishing workforce shrinkage through attrition. "We want to make this transition to a leaner government as painless as possible," he said. "It means those positions are off the books, not only presently but for the next biennium and beyond."
Another agency facing layoffs is the Department of Revenue. Of the 13 positions to be eliminated, seven are filled and will face layoffs, said agency spokesman Derrick Gasperini. The last time the department laid off workers was during the 2001-03 budget cycle. Those positions were quickly hired back after the state began losing money because of slower tax collections, he said.
The department is trying to avoid a repeat, Gasparini said.
"I can't say we can lose seven people and not have some impact," he said. "There are some areas where we'll have to decide what work won't get done." But the cuts have been engineered "so we could have the smallest impact possible."
Today, lawmakers get another quarterly revenue forecast, and the early warnings aren't good. More budget cuts may be necessary, Devlin said.
"If people have difficulty with the cuts we're making now, they should get used to it," he said, "because it doesn't look like it's getting any better."
-- Harry Esteve
Related topics: 2012 legislature, layoffs, state workers