Hawaii state job cuts reach 817, 1% of total
By Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writer
Last summer, Gov. Linda Lingle said she wanted to cut up to 2,500 state jobs to reduce the budget deficit. That figure was later revised to 1,197 positions. As of last week, the state had eliminated 817 positions through layoffs or other actions.
While lower than first announced, the Lingle job cuts were greater than those that occurred during the state's last mass layoff. Gov. Ben Cayetano tried to lay off 1,300 state workers to narrow a budget deficit in 1995; only about 150 workers were actually cut.
The effect of the layoffs on state government employment has been relatively small. Overall, state government accounts for more than 70,000 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics.
The layoffs amount to just over 1 percent of all state jobs.
Cutting state jobs is difficult, in part because of civil-service protections designed to preserve worker rights. That makes it difficult for the state to achieve efficiencies from mass layoffs, said Paul Brewbaker, a local economist with TZ Economics.
"That's just the way the labor force is structured under labor contracts," Brewbaker said. "The opportunity to create efficiency gains in many ways is thwarted by the structure of contracts."
The actual number of layoffs is lower than targeted because some positions were later removed from the layoff list and because civil-service rights allow employees to bump those with less seniority from their positions.
There were 380 state employees who bumped into jobs in other departments, according to the state.
"You have positions that are being eliminated that aren't seen as productive enough to warrant their continuation, but the individuals in them are able to displace persons in positions ... seen as productive and where in many cases the people that are being bumped also are productive," Brewbaker said. "So it's a very inefficient way of doing it."
There were 689 employees laid off, 83 who retired and 45 who voluntarily resigned, according to the state.
The layoffs, which came after the state and public worker unions failed to reach an agreement on furlough, have been criticized for reducing public services and government oversight.
The job cuts are expected to save at least $35.9 million in the year ending June 30, 2011, and $57.2 million overall, according to recently released figures.
Those figures are based on an earlier job cut total of 705 positions, so the actual savings could be significantly greater.
The state's estimated budget deficit stands at about $1.2 billion, as tax revenues came in lower than expected and the economy remains stalled.
Marie Laderta, the director of the state Department of Human Resources Development, would not comment on whether the administration has saved as much as it anticipated from layoffs.
"I don't think we can say whether we were satisfied with it," she said. "When you RIF (reduction in force) the employees, nothing is positive about the RIF, other than it's something that we have to do.
"We were hoping to get the best potential of savings from this RIF and that's why we went through the exercise of abolishing vacant positions (because) we wanted to maximize, I think, the potential savings (and) cost containment effects from this RIF."
In addition to those laid off so far, the state Department of Human Services plans to lay off another 228 workers under a cost-cutting plan that takes effect on June 30.
While the state may employ about 70,000 people, Lingle only has the authority to potentially lay off 14,703 workers — a figure that excludes jobs such as those in the Department of Education, Laderta said.
Savings achieved by the job cuts came at the cost of reduced government services, which were cut or scaled back in many areas, ranging from restaurant inspections to economic development.
Understaffing and reduced hours in the Health Department's vector control and sanitation units was highlighted following the release of an Internet video last year that showed rats running around a Chinatown market stall. Additionally, job cuts in the state Film Office raised concerns the state could lose out on TV and film production projects that generate jobs and exposure for the state.
WAS IT WORTH IT?
Other planned cuts were averted. Twenty-two plant quarantine inspectors slated for layoffs at the Department of Agriculture received a reprieve after alternative funding for the positions was found.
At the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the state's largest public-sector union, membership is down about 1,000 to about 28,500 year-over-year, said Randy Perreira, the organization's executive director.
"Our membership number went down, but that could be due to a combination of some people getting laid off, some people retiring and some people that for whatever reason have left government service voluntarily ," he said.
"Ultimately," Perreira said, "I'm sure some money will be saved because there were a lot of people who retired, there were some changes, but I think the savings would not have been anywhere near what the public would have expected and it's created more turmoil frankly because in many cases they're finding that we need somebody to provide these services."