Skepticism and cool reaction greet latest budget-cutting ideas from Minnesota state employees union

For the second time in eight months, leaders of the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees announced that they had come up with cost-savings ideas to assist the swimming-in-red-ink state government.

Last May, MAPE leaders unveiled a list offering $350 million in potential cuts and ways to produce more revenue.

Today, it came forward with a new plan that suggests $100 million in cuts for the current biennium.

Given these hard times, you might think that MAPE, which already has endorsed House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher as its choice to succeed Gov Tm Pawlenty, would be given big slaps on the back for its efforts.

Not so.

First, there was skepticism from reporters. Then, there was a rather nasty reaction from Pawlenty’s office.

Oh, cutting budgets is such unappreciated work.

In truth, several MAPE proposals could be seen as outright shots at the Pawlenty administration.

For example, in the last year, when the governor has been saying that the state should do more with less, MAPE claimed that the governor’s administration has added managerial positions that cost $8.5 million a year. According to Jim Monroe, executive director of the union, the state has a ratio of one manager for every two supervisors sprinkled throughout government.

The Office of Management & Budget isn’t clear how MAPE arrived at its $8.5 million cost figure, but its statistics do verify that the number of managers has increased — by 55, in the last year, from 1,281 managers in 2008 to 1,336 in 2009. On the other hand, the total number of full-time state employees (not counting MNSCU) has actually decreased since 2001, according to Management and Budget stats. 

The MAPE study shows that the Pawlenty administration is spending nearly $2 million a year in what it describes as political patronage jobs.

These “patronage” positions include everything from appointments to the Metropolitan Council (board members receive $20,000 a year), to deputy commissioner positions paying as much as $108,000. Most of the 35 people listed on MAPE’s patronage jobs list have been either former Republican legislators, people involved in Pawlenty campaigns or GOP activists. (This list did not include commissioners, who often come to their jobs after having served as Republican legislators or as Republican Party activists.)

“Boy, for a group of fiscal conservatives who claim a philosophy of limited government, it is amazing how many of them will gladly accept a government job or appointment paid for by Minnesota taxpayers,” Monroe said.

 The big area where savings could be made, according to MAPE, is in the area of outsourced contracts. Currently, Monroe said, the state spends $1.9 billion annually on such contracts. He called for Pawlenty to cut that figure by 2.5 percent, for an annual savings of $40 million.

Large hunks of the outsourced work, however, can’t be done by state employees, Monroe admitted.

“We [state employees] can’t build highways,” said Monroe as an example of outsourced contract work.

But he also believes state employees have the skills to do much of the information technology work that is being outsourced to out-of-state companies.

MAPE also said that out-of-state travel, which the Pawlenty administration already has limited, should be cut by an additional $2.3 million, which would mean a virtual ban on such travel, except for MnSCU teams.

The reaction MAPE received?

One of the first questions a reporter asked Monroe was whether MAPE employees were willing to take a pay freeze in order to help bring the budget in line.

“We already have,” Monroe responded. Indeed, MAPE employees signed a contract last year that freezes wages till June 2011.

Monroe went on to say that national rankings show that Minnesota’s state government workforce “is the 10th leanest in the country. Our workforce is efficient.” He said the state employee payroll amounts to “less than 4 percent of the state budget.”

Rep. Tony Sertich, the House majority leader, was the one pol in the room. He was largely supportive of the MAPE proposal, but with caveats.

For example, Sertich noted that many of the outsourcing contracts go to Minnesota businesses.

“But it’s appropriate” to find ways to cut costs on out-of-state contracts, he said.

Sertich also acknowledged that patronage long has been a part of the spoils system of government: You win an election, you get to appoint friends to various jobs. (Sertich wasn’t old enough to vote the last time a DFL governor, Rudy Perpich, was making such appointments.)

He did say, however, that in these economic times, government may have to run differently. He suggested that the Legislature might at least look at cutting funding for some of the assistant and deputy commissioner jobs.

“I’m not questioning the ability of the people doing these jobs,” Sertich said. “It’s not personal.”

But, he added, given these historically bad economic times, it may be time for substantial changes in how government works. He said it makes more sense to lay off assistant commissioners than “the people who educate our children and care for our grandparents.”

MAPE leaders said the governor did respond to some of the suggestions it made last May, although Pawlenty did not acknowledge that those suggestions came from MAPE.

The administration did get much more aggressive in collecting $225 million in delinquent income, sales and corporate taxes. It did reduce out-of-state travel. However, Monroe said, little was done to cut into the outsourced contracts.

Today’s suggestions — and criticisms — weren’t exactly greeted with a warm hug by Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung.

“There are certainly going to be layoffs and fewer state employees as a result of the budget challenges Minnesota faces,” McClung said in an e-mail. “However, we don’t think it’s a good idea to turn the key of the operation over entirely to career bureaucrats and public employee union activists.”

And since MAPE was advising the governor how to do his job, McClung decided to give the group some free advice, too:

“We would challenge MAPE to reduce its costs and the burdens they place on their members by reducing their dues during these challenging times by at least 5 percent to provide some relief to their members.”

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Janie Smith on 01/08/2010 - 08:05 am.

    My MAPE dues are only about $15 a month. That is FULL share, not FAIR share. A 5% decrease would be 75 cents. BIG DEAL! What a silly suggestion and only points to the immaturity, sniping, and general ineptitude of Brian McClung and the Pawlenty administration. MAPE has provided some excellent suggestions. I work for the state, in an IT department, and can confirm, first hand, that these issues are very real indeed. Brian McClung mentions that “there certainly will be layoffs” and we all know what that means. Layoffs of the employees at the state that do the work, instead of the bloated management layer.

  2. Submitted by Rod Loper on 01/11/2010 - 09:14 am.

    This is the same pattern of the Bush administration at the federal level. Insert
    campaign people into positions as “minders”
    and facillitators of regulatory capture. It’s
    an agenda not efficiency.

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