At issue | Dec. 11 Herald-Leader article, "Panel protects non-merit positions; personnel board sides with Beshear against job cuts"
Recent news coverage of my attempts to manage the state's non-merit work force in a way that not only saves the taxpayers' money but also preserves critical government services has been misleading, factually incorrect and focused on the trees instead of the forest.
I want to set the record straight while also explaining our goals and our strategy for getting there. Kentuckians should know the real story.
First, the stories suggest that non-merit workers (those who generally don't retain their jobs when administrations change) have escaped the budget-saving measures that merit workers have had to endure.
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That is incorrect. In fact, the non-merit work force has been hit harder. Every non-merit employee — including myself, my cabinet secretaries and my entire staff — is being furloughed for six days, just like many merit workers.
In addition, many of them — some $5 million worth this fiscal year — will be losing their jobs.
I'm told I am the first governor who has ever significantly reduced the non-merit work force.
And finally, there is the question of pay cuts. My senior staff, my entire cabinet and I have voluntarily taken 10 percent pay cuts, to more than share the pain.
Second, the numbers used by the writers to conclude that I am expanding the non-merit workforce were drawn from different categories. In other words, the writer compared proverbial apples to oranges.
One category includes only those workers whose hires were approved by me. The other category measures positions defined under new statutory language guiding the quarterly Personnel Board reports. These parameters are broader, and include non-merit appointments not under direct control of the governor (such as those appointed by other constitutional officers). It also does not include employees in the Governor's Office itself.
If you don't confuse the categories and instead compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges, you reach a different conclusion: I am in effect shrinking the non-merit work force.
If you looked at the first category — only those non-merit personnel directly authorized by me — then from February to October, that number dropped from 826 to 795.
If you looked at the Personnel Board's broader parameters, again from February to October, that number dropped from 887 to 856.
Either way, it's a reduction, not an increase.
Third, the stories have focused on 81 positions and my attempts to retain those positions, many of which were created as far back as 1976. Comments in the story suggest these are new positions with few duties, created by me to reward friends with high salaries. That is not true.
Like I said, some of them are more than 30 years old, and they include essential positions such as the chief highway engineer, the chief public health nurse and six "new business development agents," meaning people who help create jobs. It also currently includes the acting Medicaid commissioner.
These positions are essential to not only helping Kentuckians survive this tumultuous economy but also improving this state's capacity to thrive in an increasingly competitive world.
That brings me to my fourth point: The status of these 81 jobs is irrelevant and immaterial to the larger question, which is "are we spending less money?"
The answer is yes. We are. We are reducing non-merit costs by $5 million this fiscal year.
How we do that — which positions we save, which ones we eliminate or leave unfilled — is simply the means toward that end, the strategy to a goal.
The bottom line is that, contrary to the stories' suggestions, I am managing the state's non-merit hires in a way that not only saves money but also preserves critical government services. It's a balance, and we have to be smart enough to do this in a strategic way. We must have the courage to cut and the wisdom to know where.
And finally let me say this. For too long, there has been rivalry and resentment between some non-merit and some merit workers, for each group feels it doesn't have the advantages of the other. Too often, that feeling is based on incorrect and deceptive information.
Inaccurate and misleading stories only deepen that divide, and they do so at a time when we should be coming together, not splitting apart.
Much like workers in the private sector, members of the state work force — the vast majority of which are honest, dedicated and valuable employees — have been beaten down by this global economic recession.
As governor, I appreciate both their service and their sacrifice — regardless of which category they fall under.