All across Louisiana government, agencies are cutting personnel costs to adjust to smaller budgets in difficult times. So far in the fiscal year that began July 1, the effect is not deep, but it is sweeping in its scope. And it could represent a reversal of the payroll expansion that for many years has been a consistent trend in Louisiana, with the exception of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Strategic decisions, such as closing New Orleans Adolescent Hospital and streamlining Charity Hospital operations, certainly have reduced the number of state workers.
But the primary driver appears to be dramatically lower state tax revenue and oil and gas income, a situation Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Legislature chose to accept during the spring session rather than increase taxes. The governor has warned that the worst might be yet to come, as bailout money given directly to Louisiana from the federal government's economic stimulus package runs out in two years.
The Office of Civil Service is handling an extraordinary number of requests from agencies seeking permission to implement layoffs or layoff-avoidance measures, such as work-time reductions or ceasing the usual annual practice of giving employees 4 percent pay increases. In fiscal 2008, civil service had 11 such requests; in fiscal 2009, it had 77 requests -- including 42 in June alone.
In recent weeks civil service has approved layoffs for more than 50 state institutions. Most managers will be implementing those this fall, and the total body count has not yet been tabulated. New rules have given agencies more flexibility in handling staff adjustments, and seniority is less a factor in deciding who goes and who stays.