Last week, a memo was leaked to the press outlining the LePage administration’s intention to push for a dramatic reduction in Maine’s government workforce in next year’s budget proposal. The plan, according to the Portland Press Herald, would eliminate about 2,300 state jobs, a nearly 20 percent reduction.
Labor unions and progressive groups were quick to condemn the proposal. “These cuts would add additional stress on an already greatly reduced workforce and further compromise our ability to deliver the quality public services Maine citizens deserve,” wrote Ramona Welton—president of the Maine State Employees Association—according to the Portland Press Herald. The Maine Center for Economic Policy, in a blog post, warned that “reducing staffing ultimately means cutting state services that make Maine strong – from issuing hunting licenses to overseeing workers compensation claims, securing our prisons, inspecting bridge safety and testing our water for poisons.”
But is shrinking the size of Maine’s government workforce really such a radical idea, especially at a time when state workers—due to high salaries, restrictive bargaining agreements and generous benefits—are more costly than ever? In fact, many states have pursued this approach as an effective way to reduce government spending without jeopardizing essential public services.
During his eight years as Governor of Florida, Jeb Bush cut about 13,000 government jobs, or 11 percent of state employees. Since 2011, Governor Rick Scott of Florida has cut more than 10,000 additional government jobs.
Unfortunately, despite LePage’s efforts to trim Maine’s state workforce since taking office, we still lag behind other New England states like New Hampshire and Massachusetts—and even states like New York and California—in terms of state employees per capita.
And the savings LePage envisions amount to more than chump change. Though LePage’s memo doesn’t estimate how much the state could economize by implementing these cuts, a quick, back-of-the-envelope calculation – using data from the Department of Administrative and Financial Services – suggests that the average state employee costs approximately $48,800 in total compensation (wages, retirement, and health benefits). If 2,300 state positions were eliminated, we could save as much as $112 million per year.
That money, returned to hardworking Mainers in the form of income tax relief, would do far more to achieve prosperity than a bloated bureaucracy.