Seven Days Shay Totten On Challenges For Change

“Any more job cuts would result in the complete inability of some departments of state government to function effectively,” adds [VSEA Director Jes] Kraus. “But perhaps that’s been the plan all along: Break it until it can’t be fixed and then privatize.”

Ch-Ch-Changes

This week lawmakers will hunker down and determine what they want to keep, amend or reject in Gov. Jim Douglas’ Challenge for Change proposal.

“I don’t think anyone expected to like everything the administration came up with,” said House Speaker Shap Smith. “Our job is now to ask if these efficiencies justify the erosion of appropriate oversight, from the sale of state property to environmental permitting.”

Masked by the debate is the fact that the administration failed to meet its $38 million savings target by at least $8 million. That means the legislature needs to find another $8 million to balance the budget, on top of any “savings” it rejects from the Douglas plan.

Add to the growing deficit the federal money lost because the Vermont State Hospital didn’t get its certification — the state will receive $8 million less in FY10, $16 million in FY11.

Why didn’t the Douglas team meet its $38 million goal?

Simple, according to Tom Evslin, the state’s chief technology officer and “Challenges” point man. It focused on items that need legislative approval first, since lawmakers will be gone in a month.

“We have other constructive levers and restructuring actions to figure out to make budgets which account for the whole $38 million; I expect that to be hard but constructive; it will happen,” said Evslin. “Critical now is to get the legislation we need to make the whole thing work. Otherwise we do have to do cutting, which is not constructive.”

The other “actions” will likely be detailed to the joint legislative government accountability committee, not the full legislature.

State employees fear future layoffs are in the offing. In the past two years, nearly 700 jobs have been eliminated due to a mix of layoffs, retirement and eliminating vacant positions.

“I can’t see how implementing the challenges would not result in layoffs,” said Jes Kraus, executive director of the Vermont State Employees Association. He thinks lawmakers should see the full details of the plan before voting on it. What a concept.

“Any more job cuts would result in the complete inability of some departments of state government to function effectively,” adds Kraus. “But perhaps that’s been the plan all along: Break it until it can’t be fixed and then privatize.”