Unclear whether bill intended to reduce number of state employees will have significant impact

Baton Rouge — It may not be surprising that state Senator Jack Donahue’s legislation to reduce Louisiana’s disproportionately large government work force was met with criticism. What is surprising is that much of this criticism comes from administrators that support its underlying goal.

Louisiana’s executive branch of government has over 83,000 employees, and total state employment, on a per capita basis, is 38 percent higher than the national average. With Senate Bill 293, Jack Donahue (R-D11) sought to reduce the number of state employees by five percent each year for the next three years, in line with the recommendation of the Commission on Streamlining Government (of which he is chairman).

Along with the employment reduction goals, SB 293 mandates an “agency attrition analysis,” to clarify who is coming and going and how each agency is handling employee allocation.

However, after SB 293’s passage this legislative session and enactment on August 15th, State Treasurer John Kennedy was openly critical and both the former and current commissioners of administration dismissed it as watered down, superfluous, and simplistic.

These individuals carry or have carried responsibility for addressing the state’s escalating budget shortfalls, and they agree that the number of state employees needs to be cut. However former Commissioner of Administration, Angele Davis, responds that the number of state employees is already decreasing. She notes that under her 2007 to 2010 tenure with Governor Jindal the number of executive branch employees fell by 6,000, from 89,000 to 83,000.

“Just take a look at the administration’s track record. It speaks for itself… While I am in complete agreement with the desire to reduce the size of the state workforce, we need to be more strategic about it, rather than just cut another 15,000 jobs across the board.”

Kennedy’s criticism comes from another angle, that the legislation lacks mandated cuts. According to him “all it does is ask the division of administration to conduct an agency position attrition analysis. I mean it’s a study, and we don’t need a study… We could be looking at well over a three billion dollar deficit this time next year, and we’ve known about this for two years.”

“We know everything we need to know. We know we’re number one in the South in the number of positions, and have been for twenty years, adjusted for population… We know we have a 16 percent, on average, attrition rate each year… We know we have 17,000 vacancies each year… If we don’t fill a third of them each year for the next three years we can save a billion dollars and get down to the southern average.”

Kennedy worked with Donahue in the Commission on Streamlining Government, and he wanted to make clear that the bill’s amended and watered down nature “was not Jack [Donahue’s] fault. Jack fought like a tiger, and he did a great job, but the governor didn’t support his bills, and for whatever reason the legislature just would not embrace [the commission’s] work.”

Regarding the reporting requirements of the Act, current Commissioner of Administration, Paul Rainwater, says “we were already doing it… The fact is there was already such a report that was part of the budget. You do a position-by-position analysis as you’re putting together the budget, to make sure the number of employees sticks with the budget… This validation process already happens.”

In some regards Donahue was sympathetic with his critics, and he regrets that he could not pass the original version of the legislation. “The legislation I proposed was originally a mandate. I scaled it down to make it a goal. I still think it can be effective, and the reason I did that was because I thought it had a better chance of getting through the legislature that way, and that proved to be correct.”

“I suppose [the lack of strict mandates] is a legitimate concern. I’m going to work to try to make sure that [the goal] happens, the way the legislation says… Sure, nobody goes to jail if it’s not done, but [the goal] is law… There’s a billion and a half dollars of pressure… I think it’s going to be effective because we’re going to have to come up with a billion and a half dollars from somewhere, and this is one of the ways we can do that… This is a perfect opportunity.”

Listen below for John Kennedy’s comments (six minutes):

Fergus Hodgson is the Capitol Bureau Reporter with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, and he can be contacted at fhodgson@pelicanpolicy.org. This article first appeared here on the Institute’s home site.