When Republican Phil Batt laid out his blueprint for a leaner, more efficient state government 8 1/2 weeks ago, he challenged lawmakers to freeze the state payroll at this year’s level.
“I will recommend an increase of 16 full-time employees,” the new governor declared. “Together, maybe we can find another 16 positions that can be eliminated.”
Members of the budget committee took up the challenge, at times seeming almost obsessed with lopping existing jobs from the budget and refusing requests to add new ones in their quest for no growth. But the results were mixed at best.
The legislative budget has a dozen fewer workers than Batt’s spending plan would have required. But it still has 128 more full-time jobs than the budget lawmakers wrote for the current spending year, according to a new analysis from the Legislative Budget Office.
“I honestly expected we’d do better,” conceded Senate Finance Chairman Atwell Parry, the conservative Melba Republican who was part of the employee-checking crusade.
“It’s just testimony that it’s very difficult to stop government growth,” Parry said. “In fact, we found in places it’s impossible no matter how hard you try.”
At this point, an extra 128 people on the state payroll would still be the smallest number of additional workers added to the budget in a decade. But it is far from zero, and it remains to be seen whether it can be kept at that level once government agencies are forced to meet their responsibilities and public demands for services.
The press to add more employees will come over the next several days as the budget bills are considered by the House and Senate.
With just two months to put his own budget proposal together after the election, Batt’s own assessment of the payroll was optimistic.
While the 104 jobs he cajoled lawmakers to cut from the current budget - mostly from the huge Health and Welfare Department - was hailed as a major step in reining government in, that was not enough to offset the 130 jobs added to the payroll since the budget year began last July. They were generated by federal or other funds the state secured after lawmakers adjourned last spring.
And budget writers added another 36, mostly at Batt’s request, to cover responsibilities that would not wait until the new budget takes effect this summer.
Then the governor repeatedly modified his 1996 plan that started out with only 16 extra workers to add even more new positions. And in his original employee count, he failed to include the 28 additional workers for the new Department of Juvenile Corrections he backed and the 70 jobs required to accommodate expanded engineering education in Boise and rising enrollments at the universities that he supported.
Budget writers trimmed where they could, rejecting Batt’s request for five more State Police officers and postponing until the 1997 budget the addition of guards to man the new prison unit.
They eliminated more than 70 jobs just because they had not been filled for six months. But Health and Welfare Director Linda Caballero told them early in the session that they had squeezed out about all they could by downsizing agency manpower.
Any more would begin to affect the ability of agencies to do the work required of them, Caballero said, so any new attack on the payroll would have to come by completely eliminating programs or responsibilities.