Reigniting tensions between Republicans legislators and public employees, a House committee on Wednesday approved a proposal to reduce the state’s workforce by 15 percent.
“This proposal is about more than balancing the budget. It is about balancing government,” said the bill’s author, state Rep. Keith Downey, R-Edina. “For too long, state government has relied on one-time measures and looked the other way to foreboding fiscal crisis. Our state can no longer afford the status quo, and our citizens deserve better.”
Democrats blasted the measure as a ham-handed effort to cut state workers without ushering in any reform to make government work better. They called it “economic suicide” in a struggling economy to eliminate 5,000 workers.
“Slashing jobs instead of creating them will only further weigh down our already fragile and slow economic recovery,” said deputy House Minority Leader Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center.
The proposed legislation would give the governor the power the use of furloughs, layoffs, wage freezes and benefit restructuring to reach the goal in the next few years. Downey said he seeks a 15 percent reduction in both cost and workforce.
The measure would save upward of $400 million every two years, but most of the initial savings would go to increased pensions costs the plan would create, he said.
“The state's cost structure is unsustainable, and our workforce is aging,” Downey said. “This bill is the catalyst for necessary reforms—intentionally, carefully, and with the good of the employees in mind. We can either do this by design now, or drive off the cliff later.”
Critics called the move an attack on state workers rather than a meaningful way to balance the budget. Employee costs make up only about 20 percent of the state budget, which means trimming 15 percent of the workforce would eliminate a tiny fraction of the state’s $6.2 billion deficit.
State Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said the measure seems designed to appease conservative voters demanding slashed government payrolls.
“This isn’t government reform, it’s tea party politics,” Winkler said.
“If we don’t set some sort of target, I don’t know how we will ever reduce and reform,” Downey said.
The House Government Operations Committee voted to approve the measure on a voice vote and sent the proposal to its next committee for review.