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Beshear seeks exemption for 81 appointees scheduled to lose jobs

November 30, 2010 | | Comments 12

Gov. Steve Beshear

By John Cheves – jcheves@herald-leader.com

Gov. Steve Beshear is asking the Kentucky Personnel Board to exempt 81 political appointees from a new budget-cutting law that would abolish their jobs Dec. 31.

The appointees are midlevel officials across state government. Beshear did not submit their names to the board, just job titles and agencies. They include “policy advisers,” who start with a $75,729 salary on average under Beshear, and “special assistants,” who on average start at $61,980.

The request rankles a group representing rank-and-file state workers.

“Many of these jobs don’t actually do anything that serves the public,” said Melissa Jan Williamson, vice president of the Kentucky Association of State Employees. “Most of the public service is performed by the merit workers, who are paid less and who are being furloughed.”

Beshear spokeswoman Kerri Richardson said the administration remains committed to reducing the cost of non-merit, or appointed, positions by $5 million by the end of the fiscal year on June 30. But all of the 81 jobs in question are necessary, Richardson said.

“While some of these non-merit positions are called ‘assistants,’ they include deputy commissioners, deputy directors, general counsels, policy advisers and the chief public health nurse — positions that remain essential to the service of the agency or cabinet,” Richardson said.

As to the furloughs, all state employees face six days without pay, including the governor and his appointees, Richardson said.

The Personnel Board heard Beshear’s request in November but postponed action until it meets again Dec. 10. The board wants information about the appointees’ duties and their necessity, said Chairman Cecil Dunn.

“We were told these are all, quote, kind of policy-making positions; they help decide policy,” Dunn said. “I’m not sure I understand what that means. That’s one of the things we’re going to have to find out.”

Beshear and other governors traditionally put hundreds of political appointees on the state payroll, often drawing from the ranks of campaign supporters, party activists, friends and family. Appointees serve at the governor’s pleasure, unlike merit workers, and usually leave with the governor.

Last winter, in response to the state budget shortfall, the legislature tried to force Beshear to curb his political appointments. At the time, Beshear said the state had 826 full-time appointees. According to the most recent data available, that number had risen to 856 by Sept. 29.

Beshear vetoed a provision in the state budget bill that called for a specific reduction in the number of appointees. But he signed another bill into law that limited the midlevel appointees to no more than one per cabinet secretary, commissioner or office chief. Any positions in excess of that would be abolished Dec. 31 unless the Personnel Board granted them a five-year reprieve.

Although Beshear asked to exempt 81 midlevel positions, Richardson said the administration doesn’t know how many other appointees are expected to lose their jobs Dec. 31. State agencies are cutting appointed positions through retirements, attrition and layoffs, she said, although she did not have numbers to provide.

Earlier this year, lawmakers said they worried about the growing cost of political patronage when essential state services are going on the chopping block. Some political appointees openly boast in Frankfort that they don’t have any work to do, lawmakers said.

“Every governor is entitled to have some people around him who share his political philosophy. But it’s our responsibility in the legislature to make sure that that doesn’t get out of hand,” Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Committee, said this week.

“I hope that as it makes this decision, the Personnel Board considers the state of the economy right now, where we have 10 percent unemployment, as well as the state budget,” Thayer said.

Williamson, of the Kentucky Association of State Employees, said she is skeptical the Personnel Board will deny Beshear’s request. The board originally approved all the positions in the first place, she said, sometimes with little justification.

“I’ve never known the Personnel Board to not approve a non-merit position the administration requested,” Williamson said. “There’s not usually much explanation for why the position is necessary or what it will do. There’s just a title, a salary and a start date, and it’s approved.”

Merit workers are especially unhappy about political appointees because of the furloughs this fiscal year, Williamson said. Beshear said furloughs are needed to trim payroll and balance the budget. But the state would be better served if Beshear eliminated the political jobs that provide negligible value, she said.

Filed Under: Damon ThayerKY General AssemblyState BudgetState GovernmentSteve Beshear

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  1. Earl E says:

    I believe it’s really a sad state of affairs when the Governor is wanting to keep this many people when there are many others that are being cut back, or worse that are the actual onces that get the job done. I am in a position to know there are to many chiefs in state government and not enough Indians. The state hires on site managers to run their stores, parks, golf pro-shops and more, but instead of letting them manage, they micro manage from Frankfort, and they wonder why moral is bad, and they are not as efficient as they could and should be. Again, the policies handed down by the state is redundant, and not cost effective. Yes, it’s time to get rid of a lot of the waste in Frankfort, and it might surprise someone how much money could be saved and how much more efficient state government could become.

  2. inspector says:

    Just go ahead spare them from furloughs as well. More reason for me not to vote for this guy.

  3. KY says:

    The legislature squirrled away this little law into the middle of another bill requiring (forcing) the Governor to request them to be retained or the positions would go away. Most if not all of these positions have been essential positions for years. The Governor has eliminated several non-merit positions already above and beyond these.

  4. Buck Feshear says:

    Most if not all of these positions have been essential positions for years.

    Even without the people being named, or without the positions being detailed in the press, I think I can safely say that none of those positions are essential. Cabinet secretaries get paid big bucks. Let them make more decisions.

  5. Concerned KY Citizen says:

    Let me see if I get this straight Senator Thayer. You want the Gov. to eliminate these 81 political positions – and FIRE these actual people on the state payroll and this will help the unemployment rate in KY HOW?? And wouldn’t they then be eligible for unemployment benefits, which would add to the already stressed budget in OET. As I remember, the last Republican Governor – Fletcher had the MOST political appointees of ANY Administration and they were all being paid $100,000 at the least.

  6. serah says:

    We need a Chris Cristy in Ky., Bashear just hasn’t got any “junk”. We’ll vote him out next year.

  7. KY says:

    Well, Buck, I cannot speak for all of these positions, but some of these are responsible for overseeing the activity of dozens and in some cases hundreds of employees. A Cabinet may have a thousands of employees which the Cabinet Secretary is responsible for. It isn’t unreasonable for other non-merit staff to oversee subsets of those thousands.

    There have already been numerous positions and non-merit staff let go. Potentially more of that to occur. Kentucky state government is currently staffed by a personnel level comparable to the early 1990′s with the recent reductions.

  8. benji says:

    Concerned KY Citizen-if they draw UI Benefits at the max of 415 per week, the state still saves money–and pays them to do the same thing they do now, NOTHING !

  9. Buck Feshear says:

    As I remember, the last Republican Governor – Fletcher had the MOST political appointees of ANY Administration and they were all being paid $100,000 at the least.

    I think either you’re blatantly lying, or your memory is faulty. My recollection is that he had fewer political appointees than Patton. And you’re forgetting that a lot of $20K jobs are non-merit. So the part of your statement about the salaries is definitely untrue.

    A Cabinet may have a thousands of employees which the Cabinet Secretary is responsible for. It isn’t unreasonable for other non-merit staff to oversee subsets of those thousands.

    You know as well as I do that the actual oversight is done by branch managers, section supervisors and unit leaders — all merit positions.

    Kentucky state government is currently staffed by a personnel level comparable to the early 1990’s with the recent reductions.

    And even then, state staffing was far above the 33K level set in statute. With the advent of technology, we really should need fewer workers, not more, to provide the same or greater level of services.

  10. friendsofcoalandoil says:

    I’ve finally figured out who Buck Feshear is!

    He’s actually Ernie Fletcher himself!

    Come on Ernie, man up and admit its you, you sly dog. And I thought you’d gone into hiding.

  11. Buck Feshear says:

    No, I’m not Gov. Fletcher, but I was, and remain, a huge fan and supporter of his. He’d be a darn sight better than what we have in office now.

  12. blueyedgirl says:

    The vice president of KASE has obtained the salaries of all the “81″. If you want this information, KASE will provide it to you. These salaries total approximately 6 million dollars. While some of these jobs do require actual work, most of them do not. The biggest decision most of these people make is where they will be having lunch! Additionally, 11 of these jobs are currently vacant–some since 2007. These non-essential vacant jobs should not be funded and staffed by political appointees when merit workers are doing the job of 2 or 3 people while taking a pay cut due to furloughs and paying 200% more for health insurance!!!