Local News

State labor costs likely to affect services, administration secretary says

By Elizabeth Hewitt, VTDigger.org

As the Shumlin administration and the Vermont State Employees’ Association debate how the state will manage $10.8 million in personnel and labor cost reductions, the impact of those cuts remains unclear.

Late last month, the House approved a $1.48 billion general fund budget package that includes a $10.8 million reduction in personnel and labor costs as proposed by Governor Peter Shumlin.

There is a number of ways that the state could arrive at those savings, but, according to Secretary of Administration Justin Johnson, who is responsible for finding the reductions, the state’s options are limited so long as the VSEA refuses to reopen a contract negotiated in 2013.

Johnson sent out notices to departments and agencies in early March announcing that the state could be looking at as many as 325 reductions in force (RIFs). If the layoffs go through, he said, there would likely be some impact on the services the state offers.

“It’s not a direct correlation, but it’s certainly something that departments and agencies have to look at and struggle with,” Johnson said.

Ultimately, the positions that are cut will be decided by the agencies and departments themselves, working with his input, Johnson said Wednesday, April 8.

Johnson said he is looking to departments and agencies to produce “permanent savings,” meaning that management should not expect funding to be restored next year. That means reducing the workload of a department, rather than shifting the same amount of work onto fewer employees, he said.

“Whenever there are significant RIFs to a state workforce that still has not really caught up from the last round of RIFs, there is going to be an impact on the services Vermonters receive,” said Steve Howard, executive director of VSEA.

The VSEA has been an outspoken critic of the FY 2016 budget, arguing that the state should be raising more in taxes rather than cutting jobs and services.

Along with a broad coalition of groups, including the Vermont Workers’ Center and Rising Tide, VSEA held a rally Saturday April 11 in Montpelier over the state’s approach to the budget.

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