Seven Days Columnist Reports On Next Week’s JFC Hearing

"Kraus said the Douglas administration, despite its promise, has not met with labor leaders to work out a cost-savings plan that trims the state budget without putting people out of work."

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"This is well-trod territory for state employees: Democrats giving Douglas the green light to cut workers based on a monetary target, not on ways to make government work more efficiently. The result? A body count, pure and simple, notes Kraus."

Labor Pains — Last week, the administration released a “collaborative” recision plan to trim $28 million from the state’s 2010 fiscal budget. Of that, $11 million is a mix of cuts and sleight-of-hand accounting, and another $7 million is the “surplus” from the FY 2009 budget. Finally, $7.4 million will come from the all-too-familiar phrase “labor savings.”

The plan was concocted in secret by fewer than four lawmakers — a mix of Democrats and a Republican — and members of the Douglas team.

Don’t you just love government transparency?

I know, I know: How can an elected official speak his or her mind with the press hanging on every word? Just ask state enviro officials who attended a closed-door meeting a couple weeks ago with the folks they regulate. Maybe this is a trend.

The legislative Joint Fiscal Committee will convene a public hearing next week to get a sense of what the unwashed rabble likes, and dislikes, about the proposal.

For starters, you can expect state employees will have something to say about the amorphous “labor savings.”

“It’s more of the same,” said Jes Kraus, head of the Vermont State Employees Association. “We don’t know if they’re planning to cut snowplow drivers or workers who help disabled kids or the unemployed. It’s just: Here is your target, let’s make some cuts.”

Regardless of public input, Kraus hopes the committee — composed of top members of the legislative money committees — will seek more detail on the “labor savings” item before approving the measure.

This is well-trod territory for state employees: Democrats giving Douglas the green light to cut workers based on a monetary target, not on ways to make government work more efficiently. The result? A body count, pure and simple, notes Kraus.

And the bodies are piling up like cordwood. In all, the legislature and Douglas administration have cut 620 jobs from the state payroll through a mix of “vacancy savings,” early retirements and layoffs.

The proposed recision plan of another $7.4 million in cuts, coupled with vacancy savings contained in some of the budget cuts, would amount to as many as 300 more jobs eliminated.

Kraus said the Douglas administration, despite its promise, has not met with labor leaders to work out a cost-savings plan that trims the state budget without putting people out of work.

“They’ve basically said that even cost-cutting ideas all have to go through Michael Marks,” noted Kraus.

Who the heck is Michael Marks? He’s a private attorney who happens to be the administration’s lead labor negotiator. Douglas’ team and VSEA will soon sit down to hammer out the next two-year contract. Just in time for Labor Day.