In three months the state will begin FY 2010 with a budget deficit of $200m+ and the administration and legislature are counting on Vermont’s share of the stimulus package to bridge any major gaps, along with budget cuts and layoffs. To strategically address the immediate deficit issue and position ourselves for future sustainability, a reduction in the size of state government is necessary. How it happens is a function of thoughtful stewardship and innovative thinking on the part of agency heads.
In one case, the Agency of Human Services, which employs 3,500 people, was told to cut $6.8m (or roughly 285 positions.) Secretary Hoffman and his team are working hard to hit that budget amount with as minimal impact on workforce or service delivery as possible. So far, he’s identified 5% of his staff positions for elimination, or 195 people. For a front-line agency that sees the clash between economic crisis and human suffering, and where caseloads are skyrocketing, that’s a tough assignment. Nonetheless, Hoffman, whose experience in the financial sector and tenure in corrections, is an experienced and capable leader; one who understands the risks from both sides of the challenge.
To date, proposals from the state employees’ union have not yielded the kind of savings necessary to avoid further workforce layoffs within the state workforce of 8,400+. But cut we must, otherwise the four constituents of state government ~ citizens, businesses, employees, and other levels of government ~ will suffer death by a thousand paper cuts. It is in everyone’s best interests that the union negotiators and administration find creative ways in which to achieve cost savings and avoid layoffs. Keep talking and sharpen those pencils.