Beware of simple answers to complex questions.
That bit of wisdom eluded the House Appropriations Committee the other day, when its members approved House Bill 306 by Rep. Dee Richard, No Party-Thibodaux. The bill purports to mandate a cut in state jobs by 5,000 per year for the next three budget years.
Simple, right? Not so fast.
The idea of an ax falling on thousands of state jobs every year has been pushed by state Treasurer John N. Kennedy.
He is absolutely right that state government, like many organizations, spends most of its money on personnel. A significant cut in personnel is the only way to reduce spending significantly.
Needless to say, we also agree with Gov. Bobby Jindal that this sweeping goal isn’t very realistic.
Jindal’s budget proposal reflects the complexity of actually reducing state employment: “Through a host of strategies — reorganization, consolidation, collaboration, privatization, modernization and policy innovation — this budget continues to strategically downsize government while preserving critical services,” Jindal said. “As a result, this budget proposal calls for reducing more than 4,000 full-time executive branch positions, a number that, if approved, would bring the total to more than 10,000 full-time positions reduced — a decrease of more than 12 percent — since the beginning of our administration.”
Election-year self-congratulation aside, this makes it sound as if the Kennedy proposal is unnecessary.
Kennedy says the annual turnover in state workers is an easy answer: Don’t fill a percentage of the positions that become vacant.
A lawyer by profession, Kennedy obviously has never run a prison. Or a mental hospital, or hospital of any kind. Or anyplace else where the grunt jobs tend to be poorly paid and subject to frequent turnover.
And, of course, essential in terms of replacement.
Treasurer’s Office white-collar workers cannot be called to the war veterans’ homes to tend to patients. The reality is that the state — for good or ill — is a manager of institutions, at least part of the time. Even if contracted out, the state is responsible for the treatment of prison inmates or the infirm.
Advocates for the vulnerable in society will hardly agree with Jindal that “critical services” have been held harmless in Jindal’s cuts so far. They have testified against the Jindal budget.
But would not Kennedy’s proposal, now endorsed by a budget-writing committee that ought to know better, lead to outright chaos in these institutions?
We don’t always agree with Jindal’s views. He is quick to blame state employees for being costs, while promising voters services.
The disconnect between his positions is, in its way, another simple answer to a complex question. But the governor’s previously expressed concerns about the Richard bill’s concept remain valid.
The House should reject the proposal.