By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Mississippi, like most states, is seeing its number of state employees decline.
Deanne Mosley, executive director of the Mississippi Personnel Board, presented information to legislative leaders recently revealing that there are fewer state employees now than there were a decade ago.
As of June 30, 2012, there were 30,977 state employees and 36,492 authorized positions. In June 2003, there were 32,552 employees and 38,370 authorized positions.
There were about 600 fewer people working for the state on June 30 than there were a year ago.
During the decade, Mosley pointed out the state’s population grew 4.5 percent to 2.97 million.
“As the state grows, the workforce is getting smaller,” Mosley pointed out, saying fewer workers are having to provide more state services.
The primary reason for the reduction is an unprecedented drop in state revenue collections during the recent economic downturn. State revenue is now growing, but the budget for nearly every state agency is being affected by the loss of hundreds of millions of federal stimulus funds made available to offset the loss of state revenue.
So it is unlikely the overall trend in the state workforce will be reversed during the coming 2013 session. Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves has predicted that the budgets for most state agencies will remain level or even be reduced further.
It is difficult to cut budgets without cutting salaries, said Senate Appropriations Chair Eugene “Buck” Clarke, R-Hollandale. “About 70 percent to 80 percent of the money goes to salaries.”
Clarke said it is hard to determine what will happen to the state’s workforce during the upcoming session when the Legislature takes another look at it.
“It varies agency by agency,” he said, saying some might need additional employees, “but then you see some where you are surprised by the number of people who work there.”
The employment cited by the Personnel Board does not include all employees funded by the Legislature. There were 89,893 state employees as of June 30. That total includes teachers, university and community college personnel, plus 1 percent of state employees who do not have state Personnel Board civil service protection.
The average salary of those 31,000 employees under the Personnel Board is $34,259 per year, which is slightly less than the average for the previous year. The average salary of Mississippi employees trails significantly the pay for employees in neighboring states. The overall average in Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee and Alabama is $40,805.
Mosley could not tell legislative leaders how the benefits package in those states compared with Mississippi’s.
The reduction in employees is a nationwide trend, and according to many economists, is a drain on the national economy. At the same time private sector employment was growing during the past year, the states lost about 35,000 public sector jobs, according to Governing Magazine.
Some of the biggest reductions in Mississippi state government have come in the most labor-intensive agencies. For instance, Ed LaGrand, executive director of the Department of Mental Health, said his workforce, which is near 8,000, has been slashed more than 800 in recent years because of budget cuts.
While teachers were not cited in the Personnel Board numbers, former state Superintendent Tom Burnham said that two years ago about 700 teacher positions were cut. Overall, he said local school districts were forced to eliminate more than 1,000 positions.
According to Mosley, more than 60 percent of those leaving the state workforce have done it via resignation, though during the economic downturn some agencies were forced to lay off employees.
While Clarke identifies himself as a fiscal conservative, he said the reduction in the state workforce does have negative impacts. For instance, he said fewer people paying into the already financially stressed state pension program places an even greater strain on it.
“The actuarials watch not only the return on investment, but also the number people paying into the system,” he said.