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October 15, 2009

Got Jobs? Feds Giveth & the State Taketh

Another of those "good news / bad news" days on the Vermont jobs front.

First the good news.

Chief Recovery Officer "Czar" Tom Evslin reported that the $55,966,939 sent to Vermont as part of the  American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) created or retained 1990.86 “direct” jobs in the state.


The news came on the same day that Gov. Jim Douglas' top administrators released the details of the upcoming payroll cuts of 158 jobs.


The State of Vermont reported 510.8 jobs in a program run by the Department of Labor for dislocated and disadvantaged workers, including youth. Highway construction accounted for about 475 jobs, according to a release from Evslin's office.

In addition, Evslin noted that State Fiscal Stabilization Funds (SFSF), a part of ARRA given to states to shore up their budgets, funded about 420 jobs in public safety and 375 in local schools.

“Without SFSF and Medicaid funding to help Vermont fill massive deficits caused by the recession, there would likely have been more layoffs throughout state government and perhaps even higher taxes," Evslin noted. "Even with these funds, we still face the challenge of how we are going to fund these positions a year from now when the ARRA funds dry up and revenues still have not rebounded to previous levels.”

Vermont received an additional $120,974,211 in stimulus funds — $105 million for Medicaid — but the state is not required to track jobs retained or created with that money. So it didn't.

But the state did track whether jobs were created or retained through an ARRA-funded program run by the Vermont Economic Development Authority to lower interest rates on loans. That program, dubbed  "SmartVermont" by Gov. Douglas, is estimated to have created or retained an estimated 563 jobs, said Evslin.

Still, as the feds giveth, the Douglas administration taketh away.

The Douglas administration made public today the list of job cuts, by agency and department, from the most recent rescission. In this round, the administration trimmed $7.4 million in "labor savings" through a mix of retirements (that went unreplaced), eliminated vacant positions and layoffs.

A total of 158 positions will be axed from the state payroll. Of those, 82.5 people retired (out of a pool of about 7500), and 46.5 vacant positions were eliminated (out of 458). In addition, 29 people will be laid off.

That's in addition to the nearly 650 positions that have been cut — either through layoffs or the elimination of vacant positions — from the state's payroll in the past two years.

The recent job cuts came after the Vermont State Employees Association and the Douglas administration failed to reach an agreement. The VSEA offered a mix of ideas to save the $7.4 million without layoffs, while the Douglas administration rejected them. Instead, the administration wanted the union to agree to structural cuts this year that would carry forward to 2011 and 2012. The union balked at this request, saying any deals for future years should be settled in contract talks — talks that are ongoing and held behind closed doors.

Of the cuts, the Agency of Human Services is taking the biggest overall hit, with the Department of Corrections accounting for almost half of the 29 layoffs. In all, AHS accounts for 24 of the 29 layoffs, 42.5 of the 82.5 retirements and 23.5 of the 46.5 eliminated vacant positions.

Of those, Corrections has 10 retirements, 10 eliminated vacancies, and 14 layoffs.

"The reason Corrections is so high this time is that if you recall, they had zero last time," said Rob Hofmann, secretary of the Agency of Human Services. That's because the administration's plan to cut jobs earlier this year included shutting down a prison in St. Johnsbury. Those were all the cuts proposed for Corrections, and when the legislature took that option off the table, the department had no cuts to make.

Hofmann said no uniformed corrections line staff were eliminated.

Ditto the Vermont State Police. The Department of Public Safety eliminated five positions — all of them through retirements, including the deputy commissioner and the coordinator of the Governor's Highway Safety Program. In addition, two emergency communications dispatcher positions were eliminated, as well as an emergency management switchboard receptionist.

"The administration encouraged us to avoid layoffs if possible, and I was pleased that we were able to do so," said Public Safety Commissioner Thomas Tremblay.

Click here to download a PDF (Download Position list 10 09) of the position cuts by department.

Notice that the governor's office was among those spared, as well as the legislature. Someone has to be left to fight over the crumbs, right?

"Still, as the feds giveth, the Douglas administration taketh away."

Whether intended or not, that comment implies that there's a relationship between the ARRA money and the ongoing operations of state government.

There ain't. And you know it. Even if he wanted to, Douglas can't use ARRA money to retain state employees. It's not allowed to be used for that.

Instead of bellyaching about the government employee layoffs, why don't you ask the question of why Vermont needs more state employees than NH and Maine, which both have more than twice the population of VT?

And you could point out that NH -- which the VTSEA was pointing to as a model that Douglas should follow -- just bit the bullet and announced 200 state employee layoffs.

Webber - you're facts are way off.

First, NH and ME both have more state workers than VT. VT has more state employees per capita, but only because we have a very small county government. If you look at the total number of PUBLIC workers in each state, we're a bit below the average.

VSEA never pointed to NH as a model to follow, because Lynch (like Douglas) was unwilling to agree to no layoffs in exchange for contract concessions. Like other states, VSEA did support implementing furloughs to avoid job cuts.


NH just announced 250 state worker layoffs, not 200.

Every state in the country is trimming the state budget to match the unfortunate, but undeniable fiscal realities.

But, according to some people, Vermont should what? -- either raise taxes or run a deficit? For who knows how many years? To keep state workers employed?

Let's look at exactly what state government should actually do, and exactly the minimum # of workers it takes to do it, rather than accept the idea that every state worker who's currently employed derserves to continue being employed because they've been employed so far.

Anyone out there believe that every one of the 8,000 VT state employees is doing something that we need the state to do?

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