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State agencies offer up 9,800 jobs to close budget shortfall including TSD

State agencies offer up 9,800 jobs to close budget shortfall

Though many positions will be exempt, cuts could be deep because of
recession.

By Kate Alexander
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

Saturday, September 18, 2010

To the children at the Texas School for the Deaf, Mary Monckton is a sunny
and engaging speech pathologist determined to help them learn to
communicate.

But to legislators, Monckton is an expense that Texas might not be able to
afford.

Hers is one of 9,800 jobs that state agencies have offered up for
elimination as legislators prepare to trim billions of dollars from the
2012-13 state budget, according to an American-Statesman analysis of agency
budget requests. Some of those positions are empty, and others will probably
be preserved by legislators.

Still, the budget data show that most of those jobs are not vacant, but are
filled by living, breathing workers who could be laid off as the state
grapples with a projected two-year budget shortfall approaching $21 billion.

Mike Gross , vice president of the Texas State Employees Union , said he
expects there will be much more pressure to lay off employees next year than
in 2003, the last time Texas faced a similar budget crunch. State leaders
have again vowed to close the gap without raising taxes, but the magnitude
of the budget problem is greater this time, in part because of the ongoing
recession.

“We plan to defeat (layoff plans), but we’re going to have a lot more
headwind,” Gross said. “Texas is not a poor state. We can afford to do
better by our people.”

Although jobs and the economy have been a major focus of the election
season, there has been little if any discussion about the potential loss of
thousands of state jobs next year.

Agencies have a tendency to offer worst-case scenarios to open the budget
negotiations, said Talmadge Heflin , director of the Center for Fiscal
Policy at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a think tank that promotes
limited government.

“If they show the legislators all these bad things will happen, maybe it
will soften their hearts a little bit or loosen their pocketbooks,” said
Heflin, a former legislator who was chairman of the House Appropriations
Committee in 2003.

Despite the posturing, Heflin said, “there is a bit of truth to what they’re
presenting.”

For Claire Bugen , superintendent of the School for the Deaf, it is
agonizing to consider losing Monckton or one of the school’s five other
speech pathologists along with an audiologist, a librarian, a high school
teacher and many other employees.

“Did you see the tears on my page?” Bugen said when asked about her school’s
$51.5 million budget request.

Bugen, as with other state agency leaders, was required to propose cuts
totaling 10 percent of the school’s general revenue budget, which came to
$3.6 million .

She first nixed a summer school program that serves 250 deaf children from
mainstream schools, as well as building repair, some laundry services for
residential students, computers, furniture and more. Still $1.2 million
short of the reduction target, the only thing left to cut was people.

“Every little position you lose in a school like ours has an impact,” said
Bugen, who says the School for the Deaf should be exempt from the cuts, as
are traditional school districts.

“We’re so small. How is our $3,637,402 going to help? It’s not going to help
the State of Texas balance its budget, but it would do so much for us.”

Therein lies the problem for Texas legislators.

What’s really on table?

The state’s $87 billion general revenue fund pays for a handful of behemoths
— public education, health and human services, criminal justice — and a
bunch of relatively small agencies.

For now, state leaders have protected public school aid from the cuts,
though people from across the political spectrum say it is unlikely that
schools will be left untouched.

“If the Legislature is going to balance this budget primarily through budget
cuts, nothing can be off the table,” said Dale Craymer , president of the
Texas Taxpayers and Research Association and onetime budget director for
former Gov. Ann Richards.

Lawmakers also have less flexibility to reduce Medicaid-related and
Children’s Health Insurance Program costs, as they did in 2003, because
federal health care reform prohibits changing benefits or eligibility
requirements.

The result is a concentrated blow to the programs that are left.

All told, the 10 percent cuts could reduce state spending by $3 billion if
fully implemented, according to the Legislative Budget Board.

Another $1.2 billion could be saved if the 5 percent cuts enacted in the
current budget are continued.

That leaves a long way to go to close a $21 billion gap, even with an $8
billion rainy day fund.

In the end, certain agencies might be told to dig even deeper.

Still, not all of the 9,800 jobs that agencies have placed on the chopping
block are equally vulnerable.

Moves to save jobs afoot

Key legislators are already pushing to exempt from layoffs 7,300 prison
guards, parole officers and other corrections workers at the Texas
Department of Criminal Justice.

Every job preserved means fewer dollars saved. Dreading a “soft-on-crime”
label, however, lawmakers often allow politics to trump budget reality.

On the flip side, colleges and universities are expected to add to the final
job loss tally when the budget is completed next year. The schools were not
included in the American-Statesman analysis because they were not required
to report the full impact of the potential cuts in their budget proposals.

But higher education shouldered a disproportionately large amount of the
$1.2 billion trim from the current budget, and that is not expected to
change next year.

The University of Texas, for instance, has said 600 jobs could be eliminated
if a full 10 percent cut is required. At Texas A&M University, the number of
affected jobs would be 400.

In 2003, most of the 10,000 eliminated jobs were cleared through attrition
and a retirement incentive. About 1,400 workers were laid off at the
Department of Criminal Justice and the Texas Education Agency .

But 2011 might necessitate more actual layoffs because the budget situation
is worse and the state has fewer budget-cutting options than in 2003,
Craymer said.

Because of the recession, there are also fewer vacant positions to scuttle
without affecting a person, said Andy Homer , government relations director
for the Texas Public Employees Association.

“The turnover numbers have just gone down. People who have a job are
sticking with it,” Homer said.

Layoffs account for about 70 percent of the 2,300 job cuts offered by
non-public safety agencies, according to the budget requests.

Almost all of the public safety job cuts, if they were to happen, would be
layoffs.

Effects of cuts outlined

Agencies say Texans could pay a steep price for eliminating these jobs. For
example:

• Courts of Appeal in Austin, Houston, San Antonio and elsewhere say they
would have no choice but to downsize by 46 employees, with some lopping off
their legal staff by 20 percent or more . The result of saving $6 million
through the cuts would be greater backlogs of civil and criminal cases and
fewer cleared cases, the courts wrote.

• The Texas Veterans Commission would lose 21 jobs , including three
employees who help the families of wounded veterans find jobs. Thirteen of
the eliminated positions — nine of which are now occupied — would be claims
counselors who help veterans apply for medical and pension benefits with the
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

A veteran’s chances of maximizing his or her federal benefits go up
considerably when aided by the counselors, who can navigate the VA’s
labyrinthine bureaucracy and speak its distinct language, said Victor
Polanco , a veterans counselor at the VA clinic on Montopolis Drive. “It can
be cumbersome,” he said.

Eliminating all 13 claims counselor positions would have the effect of
reducing federal benefits to Texas veterans and their families by $88
million over the two years, and the state would lose $3 million in sales tax
as a result, the agency estimates.

Services could suffer

At the School for the Deaf, Bugen is concerned that the staffing reductions
could leave the state in a legally tenuous spot because each of the school’s
552 students is entitled to federally mandated services for students with
disabilities.

“There is indeed a chance that one of the unintended consequences of these
reductions could be an increase in litigation regarding the denial of or
lack of appropriate educational services resulting in larger costs to the
state budget,” Bugen wrote in the agency’s budget request.

Monckton, who has worked as a speech pathologist at the school for three
years, said she loves her job but could find another if she were laid off.

She is concerned, however, that the staff reductions could affect the
individual instruction provided to the students, particularly the littlest
ones who are at a critical period in terms of learning American Sign
Language and getting exposure to spoken English.

The school has never been in a position where it has had to turn down a
student. But the budget crunch has forced the school to ponder changes that
were once unthinkable, such as limiting the ages of the students it serves
or creating a waiting list.

“It’s something I’m hoping we never have to face,” Bugen said.

Proposed state job cuts*

More than 9,800 state jobs could be eliminated next year as Texas prepares
for a potential shortfall of $21 billion for the 2012-13 budget. Here is a
look at agencies that have put the most jobs on the chopping block.

Agency Jobs cut
Dept. of Criminal Justice 7,353
Youth Commission 460
Comptroller of Public Accounts 315
Dept. of State Health Services 276
Health and Human Services Commission 246
Department of Insurance 186
Agrilife Extension Service 140
Department of Public Safety 120
Agrilife Research 116
Alcoholic Beverage
Commission 94

* Includes both layoffs and the elimination of vacant positions.

Source: 2012-13 Legislative Appropriations Requests submitted to the
Legislative Budget Board

[email protected]; 445-3618

Source:
http://www.statesman.com/news/texas-politics/state-agencies-offer-up-9-800-jobs-to-924533.html?viewAsSinglePage=true

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