The media attention on the state employee early retirement proposal has been focused mainly on the bottom line — the savings to the state budget.
The package will provide savings by replacing more experienced workers with less expensive ones. While the savings will help balance the budget, the loss of these workers will have an impact on human services delivered in our local communities. Maintaining an adequate workforce in our communities is a priority to support vital community services.
To put this in perspective, the state workforce was already at a low point after a decade of cuts and two previous early retirement packages coupled with few new hires after years of hiring freezes.
The state workforce has shrunk greatly from its peak of 70,000 workers in 1980 to 51,000 in 2008, although the workload hasn’t declined by the same proportion. With each early retirement plan, more meat was taken off the bone. The remaining state staff has picked up the slack, resulting in increasing caseloads.
From 2001 to 2008, the number of state workers fell by more than 11,000 workers, or more than 18 percent, according to a report by Michigan State University Professor Charles Ballard. The latest plan, according to Gongwer News Service, resulted in an additional 4,700 staff reduction, with nearly 60 percent from the human service delivery staff.
The biggest chunk will be taken out of the Department of Human Services, which lost the most with 1,306 retirees. This staff reduction is on top of employment declines of more than 27 percent during the current decade. The Department of Community Health will lose 565 employees, the Department of Corrections, 439, and the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth, 397. Education lost an additional 60 workers from an already small department of 450 workers. All told, about 4,700 state workers retired.
The impact of fewer state workers will be felt in our local communities. There is an old adage to “do more than less.” But in reality, without adequate staff, we do less with less. Communities will rely on the workers left behind, who already working huge workloads, while the need for public services is expanding.
While some of these workers may be replaced, their replacement is likely to be slow given the $1.4 billion budget gap ahead of us. The early retirement was implemented in a rush-rush fashion as the Legislature provided no time to hire replacements at the very time of increasing demand for services associated with hard times.
In the past, term-limited governors and legislators have relied on experienced state employees but there will be even less of them now. Fewer workers mean less capacity to provide crucial services to Michigan citizens.