State Workers

State budget year begins with 3,200 jobs on the block

Many state agencies are keeping employees on the payroll a bit longer as Washington’s government starts a new budget year today with 3,200 jobs on the chopping block.

Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget office predicts that about 1,200 general government jobs will be eliminated under the budget by June 2011. The other 2,000 positions are in higher education. That’s in addition to local districts’ teacher cuts.

Potentially, 400 of the state agency jobs are in the Olympia area. In many agencies, the process is slow and can take up to four months after lawmakers passed their budget in late April.

“We are probably halfway through that process now. Some employees have already separated or will separate from state service shortly,” Stan Marshburn, deputy director for the state Office of Financial Management, said Tuesday.

Many more workers will see their jobs go away over the next two years, Marshburn added. His agency was not yet able to say how many jobs have been eliminated as of Tuesday.

The staff cuts coincide with other deep cuts to programs, including health care, prisons and public schools operated at the local level. The reductions will mean supervision of 9,000 fewer inmates who are released from prison, reduced mental health care grants for communities, potentially 40,000 fewer Basic Health Plan insurance slots that are subsidized by the state, and less money paid to nursing homes and doctors for care they provide.

Greg Devereux, executive director of the 40,000-member Washington Federation of State Employees, said he is pleased by efforts to preserve jobs where appropriate. “I think they are doing a very good job of trying to scrub the budgets and protect line workers,’’ he said.

Even so, Devereux said, morale among state workers is “fairly low. People, just like the general population, are very concerned about what is occurring in the general economy. … I think people are cautiously hoping the economy will bottom out and revenue will start coming back.’’

In some agencies, workers with seniority have been given options to “bump” into lower-paying jobs. That process still is playing out and might not conclude until September for some higher education workers, Devereux said.

But the picture differs agency to agency. At the Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development, total agency employment is being reduced to 347, spokeswoman Wendy Pugnetti said. That represents 61 full-time permanent jobs eliminated.

But no one is actually getting kicked out the door because of retirements (including Pugnetti’s, which took effect Tuesday), vacant positions and other moves to delay layoffs. Pugnetti said some employees were moved into temporary positions that are helping to send $200 million of federal economic recovery money into communities.

At the Department of Fish and Wildlife, about a half-dozen employees retired as the agency moved to eliminate 75 jobs, including dozens of vacant positions. About 15 employees still could lose their jobs in the coming weeks, deputy director Joe Stohr said.

The agency still is going through the “bumping” process that lets workers with seniority move into old positions, forcing more recent hires out of jobs.

“We tried to preserve the folks on the ground in the region. So most of (the cuts) will be in the Olympia area in general,’’ Stohr said.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688