Gov. Mike Lowry invented “savings” in his proposed budget by counting phantom state employees as layoffs, Senate Republicans charge.
“He’s just making this stuff up,” said Sen. James West, R-Spokane. “If these are real savings, where’s the money? There aren’t any dollars attached to these bodies. He’s playing a numbers game.”
At issue is Lowry’s proposed 1995-97 budget, in which he claims a net reduction in the state payroll of 129 fulltime workers.
While Lowry claims he is “cutting” 3,514 employees from the payroll, he also is hiring 3,385 people for state jobs.
Most taxpayers would expect positions cut to mean dollars saved, said Sen. Eugene Prince, R-Thornton. Calling something a “cut” when it may not save money is misleading, he said.
“It’s just there to make it look like he did something. People are looking for cost savings, not just a reduction in the state employee count. They equate them as one and the same. It’s a little bit dishonest, I think.”
The debate was sparked by an analysis of the governor’s budget by Senate legislative staff that showed:
That 325 staff reductions claimed by the governor actually resulted from limits set by the Legislature on one-time only programs.
Another 562 employees existed only in accounting records - no one was actually in those jobs.
Another assumed 355 employees would be cut in higher education institutions, but that may not happen.
Republican critics say the cuts aren’t real.
“Reducing state employees is a great theme he’s picked up on and people are buying it, but it’s all phony. These are phantom employees,” West said.
The governor’s office countered that the savings are real - if the Legislature chooses to adopt them.
“Those positions weren’t filled by agency directors because they realized they are coming into tough times,” said Jordan Dey, a Lowry spokesman. “They were wise in not filling those positions. They were real cuts, because they were not filled.”
Republicans complain if the reductions are real, the money ought to follow the bodies.
“What I said was hey, if we are making these reductions and there’s no money, those aren’t the employees we are reducing. They must be volunteers,” said Sen. Dan McDonald, R-Bellevue, Senate minority leader.
“What the people of the state want to see reduced are the ones that cost $43,000 a year,” McDonald said. That’s about what state employees make, on average, including benefits, according to the Office of Financial Management.
“It’s the same old stuff,” he said. “And it’s what people spoke out against in the last election. Let’s be honest about it. If you want to reduce these people, let’s cut the money too.”
Cuts in state employee positions can’t be equated to dollar savings, Dey said.
In some cases, government is still providing the service and still has to pay for it.
“Steamlining and right-sizing government means two things: reducing, or cutting service, or providing it in another way. When you cut service, there is a dollar savings. In other cases, when you contract out, you still pay for those services,” Dey said.
“Either way you still get rid of state employee positions. That’s real.”
Prince disagreed. “An awful lot of stuff we do now gets into false impression. I’d like to get away from this sound bite stuff. We leave people to believe stuff that isn’t really there.”
That’s up to the Legislature, Dey argued.
“The governor is more than willing to cut government. These reductions are real, but only if the Legislature enacts them. The ball is in their court.”
The Legislature is expected to debate Lowry’s budget next month.