State officials scramble to figure where the ax will fall
Published 4:53 pm, Thursday, July 7, 2011
New environmental commissioner Daniel Esty's job just became one of the toughest in state government.
As of the start of the fiscal year July 1, Esty was in charge of the fledgling Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, a merger of two sizable agencies ordered in the new state budget.
And if that were not enough responsibility, the DEEP immediately faces an unforeseen, 170-position reduction in its 852-person work force as part of the governor's emergency plan to eliminate thousands of jobs.
"It's an especially tough time to undertake this transition," DEEP spokesman Dennis Schain said. "There were few positions being eliminated as a result (of the merger). It was seen as a merger of better policy, better approaches and to get the state on a better track to be competitive economically ... The layoffs being proposed are much more significant."
All across the sprawling state government, agency heads like Esty are faced with reshaping their staffs and identifying ways they can get by with less -- in many instances, much less. All told, state government's work rosters could shrink by 16.6 percent under the 6,500 layoffs ordered by Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, combined with the elimination of 1,000 unfilled positions.
For months, Malloy had been threatening layoffs should state unions fail to ratify a $1.6 billion concessions package needed to balance the new two-year budget. After labor shot the deal down last weekend, the governor moved quickly, releasing his list of job eliminations agency by agency.
There's not much time to figure it out. The Legislature has given the Malloy administration until July 15 to report back with a plan.
Ben Barnes, the governor's budget chief, said the administration wants to maintain current service levels.
"But they will certainly be in some cases reduced outright, in others (made) less convenient or require more changes in how people access them," Barnes said. "I expect you'll see branches and offices close in different agencies, changes in hours and you may see elimination of specific services ... With the large agencies that provide most contact with the public -- the Department of Social Services, the Department of Transportation -- unquestionably there will be changes."
Kevin Nursick, DOT spokesman, said, "We've got very difficult decisions ahead of us." The department, which at one time boasted around 4,500 employees, will lose about a third of its current 3,292-person staff. State Rep. Tony Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, a chairman of the Legislature's Transportation Committee, said past project delays, cost overruns and costly errors were often the result of a lack of manpower.
"You had engineers doing multiple multimillion-dollar projects and asking them to run two or three," Guerrera said. "It's like a juggling act. You're doing great, but throw another couple balls in there and you're not catching them."
That analogy could easily apply to many of the other state entities facing cuts.
The Department of Revenue Services, tasked with implementing a historic slew of new taxes as of Friday while boosting collection rates, stands to lose 91 employees.
Good government advocates were already fretting about Malloy's decision to merge several watchdog agencies -- including the Ethics, Freedom of Information and Elections Enforcement commissions -- into one entity with an 86-person staff. Now the new Office of Government Accountability will be down another 16 bodies.
And the Department of Motor Vehicles, fairly or unfairly often the brunt of public complaints about slow service, is going to see its 575-person workforce reduced by 196.
Many of those, Taylor said, will likely come from the state's vocational technical schools, with others made up of back-office administrators relied upon to help craft policy, measure teaching outcomes and manage the flow of federal and state dollars to local districts.
"The effect on education's going to be harmful," he said. "There's no way around it."
Leaders of the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition have been scrambling to try and find a way to salvage the savings and prevent job losses.
But that comes as little comfort to agency heads. They have no choice but to plan for the worst.
"This could change if the concessions package is accepted but we have to move forward," Schain said.
Even Republican Tom Foley, who narrowly lost last November's election to Malloy and has argued government spends far too much, is not taking pleasure in watching his opponent proceed with thousands of layoffs.
"If you're going to reduce the size of the work force, you want to do it over time and not thrash around like this with a few weeks to get this done," Foley said.