Suspended State

by R. Reese Fuller

Legislators and economists await word on the scope of state job cuts.

As the Legislature attempts to balance the budget with a projected $1 billion shortfall and an outstanding bill for $3.7 million from the federal government, state jobs are sure to be cut. But how many?

"We've heard everything from 18,000 people laid off, to we can balance it without laying off people, to 20,000 [laid off]," says Sen. Don Cravins. "I don't think anybody truly has a real grip on that right now. I can tell you, with absolute confidence, that we don't need to cut any more state employees, other than those who have come out of the affected areas and where they're no longer needed."

Gov. Kathleen Blanco called for legislators to come together to tackle the current crisis, adding, "Some of you will consider these cuts too painful, and you will try to avoid them. Let me warn you ' this is just the beginning." Despite Blanco's call for unity, Cravins says there's been more contention than consensus. "In my 14 years, this is the worst I've seen it," he says. "It's the worst division I've ever seen because it's factionalized in several areas. I'm not saying that it may not come together, but it's not going to be easy."

Earlier this month, about 4,000 state employees were dropped from the state payroll, most of which had been with LSU's hospitals and medical schools that were devastated in New Orleans. As of press time, Anne Soileau, acting civil service director, says that only two state agencies had submitted plans for layoffs.

Greg Albrecht, chief economist for the Louisiana Legislative Fiscal Office, says that more state job cuts are likely. "Only because the magnitude of the cuts being contemplated are so large, I don't see how you can do it without some kind of layoffs," he says. "However, I've been listening to the cut proposals coming from the departments so far, and the first round they're attempting to cut without large numbers of body layoffs. If they have vacancies, those are going. Student workers, those are going. Temporary people, those are going. They're trying to avoid or minimize reductions of filled positions of people that are on board and that have been there. If we're ever going to come back, you kind of need those people around.

"But realistically, to cut the entire billion or so dollars out," he adds, "I don't see how you can do it without some meaningful layoff reductions in the workforce."