FRANKFORT — House leaders want to cut as many as 125 political appointees in the executive branch of state government to help balance the budget, but figuring out how many people are in such jobs has been difficult.
The proposal would save about $5 million a year — if the House is correct that there are 3,417 full-time political appointees, called non-merit workers, in the executive branch. However, Gov. Steve Beshear's office said there are just 826 full-time political appointees.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Monday he's not sure why there is such a large discrepancy between the two numbers. However, he's confident the number of non-merit employees has traditionally been 3,500 to 4,000 since he joined state government in 1980.
Beshear's staff has acknowledged there are more non-merit employees in the state system but contends the remaining non-merit employees are typically not full-time.
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The additional non-merit workers include seasonal employees who work for the state's parks department, part-time employees and those employed for a limited time because their salary is paid with federal stimulus money.
Beshear's office said there were 826 full-time, non-merit employees as of Jan. 31, compared to 721 in December 2007, when Beshear was elected. That's a difference of 105 jobs.
The House has said there were 3,291 non-merit executive branch employees in December 2007 and 3,417 in December 2009 — a difference of 126 jobs. Brian Wilkerson, a spokesman for Stumbo, said House budget staff think those numbers represent full-time workers or the equivalent hours of full-time workers.
Beshear's staff also quibbles with the dates that House leaders are looking at to determine how many jobs to cut. The time when one term ends and another begins is typically when the number of political appointees is at its lowest.
"A more accurate comparison would be to the mid-term of the last administration," said Kerri Richardson, a spokeswoman for Beshear. "As of Jan. 1, 2006, the middle of the prior administration, there were 800 full-time employees, only 26 fewer than the current number."
Richardson said many of the political employees are in key administrative positions in state government and have worked for several administrations.
But Stumbo said he has received complaints about some non-merit employees having few job responsibilities. House leaders could provide testimony from witnesses to prove their point, he said.
Many have bragged "that they have nothing to do," Stumbo said Friday.
A bill now before the House might help legislators and the administration get a clearer picture of how many employees the state has and where to cut, said the bill's sponsor.
House Bill 387, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, would require state government to provide the legislature with a breakdown of state employees. It would show whether the employee was merit or non-merit, and how many contract workers the state employs.
Another provision in the House plan to balance the state budget, which faces a $1.2 billion shortfall during the next two years, would cut the number of private contracts for employees.
Hoover said he has been working with the Beshear administration on the language in his bill.
The state Personnel Cabinet can say how many state employees there are, but it's the Finance and Administration Cabinet that tracks private contractors, which means it's difficult to say at any given time how many workers are overseeing the state's business.
"I think that everybody acknowledges that there is not a central reporting depository for this information," Hoover said. "And there never has been."
Hoover said he expects the House State Government Committee to hear the bill this week.
The House's proposed budget plan is expected to be filed as a bill later this week, Stumbo said. It also calls for cutting two school days, chopping 2 percent of spending from many state agencies and delaying some construction projects.