State trims to prevent fiscal heart attack

The recession hasn’t been good to anyone, except maybe divorce lawyers, repo men and therapists.

But as the economy picks up again, employment numbers have shown the government sector is not the place to be. The private sector has begun to add jobs while government in most parts of the country has continued to shed them.

Let’s look at California. Despite recent record deficits in the billions of dollars, the California state government hasn’t really cut it’s workforce — it’s just slowed hiring.

The slowdown is thanks to Gov. Jerry Brown, who imposed a hiring freeze when he took office last year.  Yet reports show that last year the state hired thousands of new employees, only managing to cut their hiring by 25 percent from 2010.

That’s a bit like being told you’re overweight and at major risk for a heart attack, then promising you’re going to start exercising but showing up to the gym for five minutes once a week.

Maybe it’s not fair to frame the situation that way. Brown allowed for an exception: Agencies could make new hires if they were still able to make necessary cuts. He demanded, though, that any hiring be approved directly by his office.

So departments began to whittle away at their budgets. Through strategies like renegotiating leases, cutting down on equipment expenses, or reducing or eliminating training, they were able to make squeeze in some of the hires that they needed during the year.  Sometimes that meant hiring part-timers without expensive benefit packages or temps to do seasonal work.

Brown’s office is proud of what they have accomplished. Even critics note that reduced hiring is better than laying people off.  But with an estimated $9.2 billion budget deficit looming for the next biennium, it remains to be seen whether enough fat has been sliced off to prevent a state government heart attack.