The number of Louisiana state employees is the lowest it has been in 20 years.

And that number is expected to go lower.

Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s new state budget is built on further reducing workforce numbers over the next 12 months.

According to state Civil Service records, there are 80,806 state employees today.

That’s down from a 20-year high of 93,601 in 2004 during the last year of Republican Gov. Mike Foster’s second term.

Today’s state employee workforce is about 1,000 less than what it was in 1991 as Republican Gov. Buddy Roemer left office.

“We have come full circle,” Legislative Fiscal Officer Gordon Monk said.

Employee numbers depend on the state’s ability to pay new people, Monk said. When the state is flush, more workers are hired. When the money isn’t available, “you start scaling back,” he said.

The state’s financial situation has contributed to the reduction of some 12,750 state employees since Jindal took over from Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

But also gone from the state payroll are the hundreds and hundreds of people hired in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita who helped with disaster recovery efforts, said Jean Jones, Civil Service deputy director .

The jobs ended along with their federally funded hurricane recovery programs, she said.

Jindal’s $25 billion state budget calls for the axing of another 3,522 positions, which is part of the plan to close an expected $1.6 billion revenue hole. All but about 890 of the positions were vacant when the fiscal year began July 1.

As the fiscal year began, there were 80,806 classified and unclassified employees, according to Civil Service.

The Jindal administration has already moved numerous state agency functions to the private sector, and consolidated agency operations in other cases, moves requiring fewer state employees.

“We have tried to be very strategic about it,” said Jindal’s Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater. “We have contracted out where it did make sense.”

The administration has imposed a new hiring freeze with exceptions that allow filling only those vacant positions deemed critical in the health-care, law enforcement and higher education arena, Rainwater said.

Rainwater said the 890 potential layoff figure is a “moving target.”

Over the prior two budget years, some 1,480 rank-and-file classified employees were laid off as part of the administration’s continuing budget balancing efforts — 933 of them in the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to Civil Service reports.

No similar number is available for unclassified employees.

Hiring and firing classified employees, whose situation is set up to protect them from politics, requires adherence to a complicated and slow procedure.

Unclassified workers are appointed to their jobs by political officials and can be hired and fired more easily.

Jones said Civil Service does not track unclassified employee layoffs because they are at-will employees without job protection.

Civil Service officials said the number of classified employees who left state jobs during the two years is higher than the 1,480 layoff figure.

During the last two budget years, 2,913 positions had been targeted for layoffs. Instead of waiting to be laid off, some employees retired or found private sector jobs, according to a report filed with legislators.

Rainwater said he expects more of that bailing to occur.

“As we let personnel know what’s happening in their departments, people are given the opportunity to move on to other jobs,” Rainwater said.

Louisiana State Employees’ Retirement System reports show an increase in people opting to retire who could work longer.

Contributing to employee decisions have been the lack of pay raises for the past two years (or three in some cases), and Jindal administration attempts to reduce employees’ take-home pay by increasing their pension contributions.

Many employees who were laid off worked for the state’s health agency — the largest department in state government.

“The good thing about the layoffs that occurred is that we were able to do them without reductions in services,” state Department of Health and Hospitals Undersecretary Kathy Kliebert said.

Some services for the developmentally disabled will be provided by a private contractor instead of state employees.

As a result, there were 108 layoffs at the Northeast Supports and Services Center and another 94 at the Acadiana Region SSC during the fiscal year that ended June 30.

Kliebert said the private contractors offered jobs to many of those laid off and employees accepted.

Eighty-nine people lost jobs as the state cut back the days of operation at parish health units and clinics and pulled out of others.

“We have seen an increased level of productivity per worker,” Kliebert said.

The number of state employees, in total, is at about the level of 20 years ago after some significant increases through various administrations.

But there are more unclassified state employees — political and without Civil Service job protections — than two decades ago.

In 1991, as Republican Gov. Buddy Roemer left office, there were 61,385 rank-and-file employees protected from political firings. Today, under Jindal, there are 54,548 of them.

The number of unclassified employees — subject to hiring and firing at-will — is about 5,600 higher today than back in 1991. Roemer’s unclassified employees stood at 20,666 while Jindal’s is 26,258 today.

The number of unclassified employees has grown since Roemer, hitting a high of 31,294 under Blanco.

Civil Service’s Jones said the increases occurred for two reasons: the transfer of the state’s charity hospitals from DHH to LSU, and the influx of temporary hurricane recovery-related jobs after the 2005 hurricanes.

The State Constitution provides that professional positions in higher education are unclassified, Jones said. LSU moved many faculty teaching and other positions away from the Civil Service system when it took over the hospitals, she said.

“We also had a lot of people hired to do different kinds of disaster recovery jobs,” Jones said. “Those jobs, because they were temporary and fluid in nature, were placed in the unclassified system.”