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Harper amendment means more layoffs by Feb. 1

Some state employees might have to look for new jobs before Feb. 1, when a budget amendment requiring a 5 percent reduction in state employees must be carried out.

The amendment was part of H2006, one of the budget bills signed by Gov. Jan Brewer on Sept. 4. The reductions will include positions that already are vacant, though the number of actual working employees who will lose their jobs is unclear. The state employs about 35,000 people, according to the Department of Administration.

Sen. Jack Harper, upon whose insistence the amendment was added, said the state is employing more people than it can afford to pay. The reductions can be made only through the elimination of full-time positions, not through furloughs, reductions in hours or pay cuts.

“We have too many employees. It’s a harsh thing to say during an economic downturn, but we just can’t afford to employ so many people for the pure sake of employing people,” the Surprise Republican said. “You’ve got to be a good steward of the taxpayers’ money.”

Even the vacant positions that are cut will save the state money, Harper said, because the state still sets aside money for the benefits packages for those positions. Harper was unsure how much money the state would save under the amendment. A Department of Administration spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Brewer described the pending reductions as an unfortunate byproduct of the state’s budget crisis. The budget signed by Brewer on Sept. 4 has a $1 billion deficit, and a structural deficit of at least $3 billion.

“We’ve already cut 1,000 employees,” Brewer said, referring to positions cut from the fiscal 2009 budget. “It was something that, of course, nobody likes to do. Doing things like that is painful. But when you have an $11 billion budget and you’ve got $7 billion in revenue, you’ve got a $4 billion deficit. So I said from the beginning, I say today and I’ll say into the future, we’re going to have to continue to do some cuts.”

Brewer hinted that further workforce reductions may be on horizon. She said she instructed her agency heads on Sept. 10 to prepare reports for next month on the impacts of 15-20 percent budget cuts.

The amendment requires each state agency to lay off 5 percent of its workforce, as opposed to a cumulative reduction in the number of state employees. Harper said revisions in the law could be made before the Feb. 1 deadline for any agencies that would not be able to function properly with a 5 percent employee reduction.

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