Beshear starts cutting 'non-merit' state jobs

FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear started reducing politically appointed jobs Friday in his administration to save $5 million.

The cost-cutting measure is part of a $131 million reduction plan that this year's General Assembly mandated for the state's executive branch.

The jobs are also known as "non-merit" jobs.

"With respect to reduction of non-merit personnel costs, we are beginning to take actions to realize the planned savings of $5 million," Beshear said in a statement.

"It is unfortunate that the weakened economy and significant budget challenges have forced us to take these steps. However, we are committed to maintaining a balanced budget while keeping critical services functioning for the good of all the state's citizens."

Beshear's press secretary, Kerri Richardson, said the administration does not yet know how many non-merit employees will be affected. She provided no details about any layoffs Friday.

Lawmakers this year found it difficult to figure out how many people are in such jobs.

The state House contended that there are about 3,400 full-time political appointee workers in the executive branch. However, Beshear's office said there are 826 full-time political appointees.

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.

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.

Richardson said the non-merit reduction will be made "proportionately" among the state agencies in which the governor directly appoints employees.

Other constitutional offices such as attorney general or treasurer will have to make cuts in their offices to help reach the $5 million goal.

The reductions Beshear will oversee, Richardson said, may occur through retirements, attrition and layoffs and must be completed by next June 30, the end of the current fiscal year.

Since taking office in December 2007, Beshear said he has had "to cut the budget eight times, slicing over $1 billion in spending while keeping a keen focus on maintaining essential services to help Kentucky families weather this economy and maintaining core priorities of education, health care, creating jobs and public safety.

"It has not been an easy road, but state government must do as families must to live within its means."

Beshear said the enacted budget for this fiscal year that began July 1 cuts spending in most state agencies by 3.5 percent, on top of the 20 to 25 percent cumulative cuts over the past couple of years.

To realize the $131 million in savings this year mandated by the state legislature, Beshear's plan calls for $67 million from debt restructuring, $30 million from agency budget reductions that include contract reductions and other efficiency measures, $24 million from the furlough of non-merit and merit executive branch employees, $5 million from the sale of state assets and $5 million from the reduction of non-merit personnel costs.

State leases and contracts also will be reduced, Beshear said.

Six state workers and their labor union, AFSCME, have filed a lawsuit in Franklin Circuit Court to try to block the furloughs.