Governor stops short of halting new state hires

When the governor called a Capitol press conference to announce his plan for new budget cuts for state agencies, many media outlets reported the governor had ordered a “hiring freeze.”

But that’s not exactly accurate.

What the governor did do was require agency directors and department heads to “reduce the General Fund operations budgets for the agencies and departments under their control by 1.5 percent on an annualized basis for the remainder of fiscal year 2007–08.”
Administration officials say a hiring freeze is a likely way for many state agencies to realize those additional savings — but not the only way.

“That term ‘freeze’ seems to suggest something that it isn’t,” said Lynelle Jolley, spokeswoman for the Department of Personnel Administration. “It is a move we can take now to make it less likely we’ll need to resort to layoffs in the future.”

Schwarzenegger spokesman Bill Malie said governors in the past have ordered statewide hiring freezes. The most recent came in 2003, shortly after Schwarzenegger took office.

“What’s different this time is they’re leaving it in the hands of agency secretaries and department heads,” said Jolley. “But the idea is similar: They are still being stripped down to a bare minimum to run their agency or department.”

In the governor’s executive order, he made sure to include an exemption for “mission-critical activities” and to make sure the cuts do not “negatively impact public safety or public health activities.”

But beginning next month, “Cabinet secretaries are going to be reporting to the director of finance and the Cabinet secretary on a monthly basis showing what proposals are (on the table) and what progress has been made,” said Malie.

The cuts come on top of 10 percent cuts proposed by Schwarzenegger earlier this year. Schwarzenegger said he hopes the new cuts will realize an additional $100 million in savings.

While hiring may be slowed in some state agencies, it is not the only way departments are being urged to pinch pennies. Malie says departments are being urged to delay non-essential purchases and travel during the state’s budget struggles.

Malie said some cutbacks are already being made. Finance Director Mike Genest is forgoing a trip to Little Rock, Ark., for the annual Association of Budget Officers conference.

We all make sacrifices, it appears.

The governor’s announcement was met with skepticism from state employee unions.

“We think that the governor’s proclamation is long on spin and short on any details,” said Jim Hard, president of SEIU Local 1000, which represents about 94,000 state employees. “History doesn’t show that ‘hiring freezes’ are very effective. The last one saved less than $20 million.”

And, said Hard, many employees who work for the state are paid out of special funds or other pots of money. “Most positions at the EDD are federally funded, so it won’t help the state budget. There are positions in prison health care under the control of the federal courts. I don’t know how much the public would stand jobs going vacant for levee inspectors or the Highway Patrol or CalFire.”

But Jolley explained how this week’s announcement is different from those in years past. “Freezes in the past have been statewide,” she said. “The idea with past hiring freezes was to preserve vacancies so you could put people in vacant slots who would be taking layoffs. The purpose was to allow the state to absorb layoffs” without putting state workers out of a job.

But past freezes have been shown to have little effect. In fact, after Gov. Davis issued his order to stop state hiring in 2001, figures from the state controller found that state payrolls had increased by 33,000 in the two years after the freeze was announced.

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