August 5, 2008

Employment Efficiency

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Back in 2002, when Governor Jim Doyle was candidate Jim Doyle, one of his campaign themes was cutting government bureaucracy in Wisconsin.  He set a goal of cutting 10,000 jobs in eight years; jobs he deemed wasteful and inefficient.  That message, of reducing waste and increasing accountability, is a big reason why candidate Doyle became Governor Doyle.

Well, six years have elapsed since candidate Doyle made his job-cutting promise, and things aren’t working out quite the way he planned.  We haven’t cut 10,000 jobs.  In fact, according to a recent report, we haven’t even cut 3,000 jobs.  The grand total, after six years and countless job-cutting initiatives, is around 2,700 salaries taken off the state payroll.

To many Wisconsinites, even that number might seem like a boon.  After all, that’s millions of dollars saved for Wisconsin taxpayers.  At least, they say, we’ve stopped government from growing any larger.  What these people don’t seem to get, though, is that the cuts in jobs have come with a price of their own.

In many areas, Governor Doyle’s administration has cut jobs without similarly cutting labor and administrative burdens.  As you might guess, the results haven’t been pretty.  Offices around the state are chronically understaffed.  Without the extra workers to help shoulder the load, departments must resort to overtime on an ever-increasing basis.

Like most other employers, Wisconsin pays workers more for overtime than for regular time on the job.  Guards at correctional centers, for instance, make 50% more in salary for an hour of overtime than they do for a normal work hour.

Traditionally, overtime only came into play in extraordinary circumstances, limiting the financial burden.  Now, though, with employees regularly having to work extra shifts just to compensate for all the job cuts, Wisconsin is spending over $65 million in overtime pay.  According to the most recent numbers, overtime pay has increased by 15% in the last two years, alone.

In other words, most of the savings generated by job cuts are being spent on the increased overtime stemming from those same cuts.  Our state is paying more money to fewer people to do the same amount of work.  I sincerely doubt that was the plan back when candidate Doyle was running on a platform of fiscal efficiency.

Now, cutting government jobs just for the sake of cutting jobs might make for good politics.  But it doesn’t make for good government, or good economics, or good sense.  The truth is that government efficiency is about more than just cutting jobs.  It’s about streamlining processes, reducing corruption, and increasing accountability.  It’s also about not making cuts to departments that are already short-staffed.

That’s why Governor Doyle would be well-advised to rethink the approach he articulated back in 2002.  Instead of just slashing jobs left and right, how about a careful, well-thought-out plan to reduce things like administrative overhead? Or how about actually hiring enough workers so that we don’t have to pay millions of dollars extra in overtime? It’s certainly a break from candidate Doyle’s platform, but maybe that’s a good thing.