Patrick’s job cutting affirmed, assailed

By Brian C. Mooney
Globe Staff / May 1, 2010

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For Governor Deval Patrick’s opponents in the gubernatorial race, it has become a main point of attack: The governor, they charge, has presided over a bloated state workforce and resisted making cuts to help Massachusetts weather the economic downturn.

But Patrick’s administration says it has eliminated almost 2,500 jobs under its control since state revenues began to collapse 18 months ago, and a Globe analysis of payroll data roughly confirms that figure.

Virtually all of Patrick’s reductions have been made in the past year, however, and thus far have not been as deep as prior rounds of payroll slashing in recessions by William F. Weld in the early 1990s and Mitt Romney in 2003 and 2004. In Romney’s case, most of the jobs were restored as the economy improved.

On its face, the question of whether Patrick has boosted or trimmed the state workforce would seem to be an easy one to answer. But in an election season, and with data that can be interpreted in different ways, all parties have their analysis. The dizzying array of variables includes whether jobs are under the governor’s direct authority and how the positions are funded — some are covered by the state budget, others are paid for by federal funds or other pots of money.

“There are different ways you can produce a figure for the number of state jobs,’’ said Jay Gonzalez, Patrick’s secretary of administration and finance. “The numbers we are giving you are accurate numbers, and they are the numbers the governor controls.’’

To buttress the administration’s payroll figures, Gonzalez produced an analysis that cut the data several different ways, indicating the following:

■ Since Patrick took office in January 2007, there are 1,645 fewer executive branch positions paid for by the state budget, 1,699 fewer executive branch jobs paid from all funding sources, and 2,079 fewer positions in the entire state workforce.

■ The Patrick administration expanded the state payroll by 944 jobs in agencies under the governor’s authority before starting to downsize in late 2008.

■ Since October 2008, the administration has cut 2,457 positions paid out of state budget funds in executive branch agencies under the governor’s control (excluding courts, public colleges and universities, the Legislature, constitutional and county offices, and several independent agencies); 2,643 positions in executive agencies paid from all funding sources (including state budget, federal, trust, and capital funds); and 4,155 positions reduced from the entire state workforce, regardless of governor’s control or funding source.

Republican challenger Charles D. Baker did not dispute the Patrick administration job figures, but dismissed them as a too-little-too-late response to the crisis.

“At a time of enormous economic and fiscal challenges, we’ve never had a hiring freeze in place, we’ve never had a wage freeze in place, and we’re really talking about the state payroll on the margins,’’ Baker said in an interview. “The state is spending a lot of one-time [federal and reserve account] funds and not restructuring and using the time the one-time money bought us to restructure.’’

Baker, who was secretary of administration and finance in the Weld and Cellucci administrations, said he would cut 5,000 jobs, or about 10 percent, of the executive branch staff through consolidations and other reductions, but has offered few specifics.

Gonzalez said Baker is “just plain wrong,’’ citing labor contracts with most of the union employees in the executive branch that included zero percent pay raises this fiscal year and last, wage freezes for managers, and unpaid furloughs for both groups of employees.

“To suggest the Patrick administration hasn’t been changing the way government operates to achieve savings and efficiency is ridiculous,’’ he said.

State Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, a former Democrat running as an independent, issued a statement saying, “We have yet to see costs brought down in state payroll because there have been very few if any reductions in the state workforce,’’ and called the Patrick administration figures “phantom numbers.’’

But the numbers Cahill’s campaign used to buttress his argument are problematic, at best. Citing data from the payroll that his office processes, Cahill said the state biweekly payroll has increased about 15 percent since Patrick took office, and he pointed to information on the Patrick administration’s own Labor and Workforce Development website to claim the number of state employees has increased since Patrick took office to 123,100 people employed in “state government’’ as of March.

The jobs data, however, is not based on actual state payroll numbers or even jobs in state government, according to Alison Harris, a spokeswoman for the labor agency. It is an estimate based on a statistical sample and includes part-time jobs and positions in what she called a “wide spectrum of public sector agencies’’ that extends beyond state government to independent authorities.

Actual state payroll numbers appear regularly in the official statements of state bond offerings, which Cahill, as treasurer, signs off on. The office of state comptroller periodically updates the tally of employees on its website. There are currently the equivalent of about 84,000 full-time state employees, nearly a third fewer than the figure Cahill touted.

In evaluating workforce figures, the Globe checked them against detailed reports issued by the comptroller in May 2009 and March of this year plus workforce disclosures in bond prospectuses in prior years.

Even within these numbers, however, are caveats to reflect bureaucratic reshuffling and bookkeeping. The figures do not include the 2,729 employees of seven county sheriff’s offices brought onto the state payroll last Jan. 1; about 1,200 employees of the now-defunct Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which was folded into the new state Department of Transportation under a reorganization last November; and 3,000 work-study participants at 16 state and community colleges who were never accounted for in workforce calculations until they went into the state payroll system in 2008.

Short-term federal stimulus money is paying the salaries of about an additional 1,100 state employees since last year, and 420 of those are in agencies under Patrick’s direct authority, according to comptroller payroll reports and an administration count.

Neither Weld nor Romney had that kind of federal aid at his disposal, and when Weld took office, there were no rainy-day reserve funds to draw against.

Weld and Romney both initiated early retirement incentive programs. That saved money in the short term but resulted in significantly higher costs in enhanced pension benefits over the next 15 years, Gonzalez said.

Weld slashed about 8,000 state jobs in his first term in office, and Romney cut about 4,000 in his first 18 months before nearly all of the jobs were restored as the economy rebounded. Most of the Weld job cuts were in the sprawling health and human services secretariat, as the administration contracted out many services to private-sector companies.

Gonzalez said that the drop-off in state revenues since the fall of 2008 — tax revenues dropped $4 billion, or 18 percent, he said — is more severe than under Weld or Romney, and that the approach to cutting reflects a different philosophy of the Democratic incumbent than that of his Republican predecessors. (Patrick also signed sales tax increases for this fiscal year that offset losses by about $705 million.)

“This is the worst fiscal crisis the state has faced, consistent with what’s happening across the country,’’ Gonzalez said.

He continued: “The governor has done everything possible in a fiscally responsible way to preserve as many programs and services as possible. That’s a difference in governing philosophy.’’

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