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House, Senate staff get hours and jobs cut; lawmakers get less money for expenses and newsletters

Post by News Tribune Staff on May 29, 2009 at 2:38 pm with No Comments »
May 29, 2009 2:38 pm

Some of this might be too “inside baseball” for general consumption, but I’m putting it here anyway.

Among the job cuts in the state House of Representatives are those of Sharon Hayward, who is retiring next month, and Mary Fleckenstein, a long-time policy analyst for House Democrats, who was laid off.

Hayward, now director of facilities and human resources, is leaving despite my protestations. (She’s PERS 1, so I can’t persuade her to stay.) Sharon has been here all 20 years that I’ve covered the Legislature and has been invaluable. (Her husband, Alan, is PERS 2, so he’s stuck with me for a few more years — assuming I’m still here.)

Fleckenstein is one of those staffers who is bilingual. That is, she speaks bureaucratic jargon AND layman’s English. That’s invaluable to me, whose job is to translate legislative policy into a language that regular folks will understand. Fleckenstein made it easy for me.

Regular readers of this blog have benefited from Fleckenstein’s insights into transportation and environmental policy items, particularly over this past session. Some lawmakers periodically would forward to me her common-sense explanations of some really complicated stuff, memos she would sent to House Democratic Caucus members.

Here’s the story I wrote for the print edition. It will run sometime over the weekend. I’ll upload a couple attachments, too. Here’s the Barbara Baker memo with details. The rest of her e-mail will appear below my story.

UPDATE: I left out one key point in my stories. Legislative employees are exempt workers. Not represented by unions, or anyone else for that matter. So, they can be ordered to take time off. It’s not so clear-cut for other state workers, unionized or otherwise.

BY Joseph Turner

The News Tribune

Washington legislators are getting less money for expenses and newsletters, their staff is shrinking and getting paid less and the Youth Legislature won’t get any money from the state for two years as part of the budget adopted last month by the Legislature.

Overall, the 2009-11 budget for the state House of Representatives and Senate will be cut by about $12 million – to $120 million from $132 million – and 36 of the 709 jobs in the Legislature will be eliminated.

About a dozen of those will result in layoffs; the others from cuting vacant positions.

House Chief Clerk Barbara Baker notified the 98 representatives and their staff earlier this week that five workers had been give termination notices as part of the House effort to trim $6.5 million from that chamber’s budget over the next two years.

Details were sent an e-mail Thursday. A copy was forwarded to The News Tribune. No detailed information about the Senate budget was immediately available, but general information about the House and Senate are included in state budget documents.

Among the cuts:

– Per diem for 98 House members has been cut to $90 a day from $100 a day, effective immediately. That will save nearly $200,000 in the House alone. The Senate was and will remain at $90 a day.

– House and Senate staff have been ordered to take 40 hours of unpaid leave (furlough) each year. That will save $622,000 in the House and a lesser amount in the Senate, which has a smaller staff. It amounts to a 2 percent pay cut.

– House and Senate staff also are voluntarily taking time off without pay. In the House, that will amount to 4,300 hours and will save an additional $414,000.

– Salaries for all staff have been frozen for two years.

– House and Senate contributions to the YMCA Youth Legislature, as well as the number of student pages and interns will be cut by 25 to 50 percent in both chambers.

– House members will be give per diem (for food and lodging reimbursement) for four fewer days each year.

– Money for member "production budgets," for such things as newsletters or town hall meetings, was cut by about $500,000 in the House.

Baker said the House budget had many of the same constraints as the overall state budget in that some parts were "off limits" in terms of cuts. For instance, the Legislature must pay for basic education. Likewise, the none of the 98 state representatives could be eliminate in a budget move, she said. And each representative has one legislative aide, so nearly 200 employees were off the table when it came to cuts, she said.

"Unlike state agencies, we don’t have a ‘program’ to cut," Baker said. "We still have to the same thing regardless of how many people we have to do it."

The House is cutting $6.5 million over the next two years, or about 8.8 percent of its former $74 million two-year budget.

Brad Hendrickson, deputy secretary of the Senate, said the Senate budget was cut about $5 million, to $52 million from $57 million.


Joseph Turner: 253-597-8436


Here is Chief Clerk Barbara Baker’s e-mail to members and staff

From: Baker, Barbara

Sent: Thursday, May 28, 2009 4:01 PM

To: @House All Staff

Subject: House budget reductions

Importance: High

Members and Staff:

By now, all employees and members of the House are aware that significant reductions in our budget are necessary in order to comply with the 09-11 state operating budget that was passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor. The plan to implement these cuts has been formalized and is attached to this message.

The bottom line is that, in the next biennium, we are required to cut our maintenance level budget by $6.5 million, or 8.8 percent. The Senate and other legislative agencies took comparable reductions. Also, the legislative branch appropriation for the current fiscal year was reduced by nearly $4 million in this year’s supplemental budget.

Many people have been involved in the development of this difficult budget, including the leaderships of both parties, the staff directors and to some extent the entire staff. I have set out the most noteworthy reductions below.

Significant Member reductions:

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