Semantics and the Size of State Government

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The Herald took a shot at the Patrick Administration yesterday, claiming they have added 1,300 people to the state payroll over the last year.

We’ve written a bunch on this issue. In particular to question why the safety net agencies are taking such a dramatic hit relative to others.) Also, to note how difficult is has been to get this administration to play straight with disclosing the numbers.

In response to the Herald piece, Secretary of A&F Jay Gonzalez shot back that the Governor has eliminated 1,930 positions.

Semantics matter here. The state’s human resource system is littered with ‘open positions’ that may never be filled. Taking one of these positions off the rolls might possibly prevent spending in the future, but it doesn’t save you money in the near term.

What does save you money is not backfilling retirees and, regrettably, layoffs. As of October 2009, the administration had laid off 802 people from the executive branch over the course of calendar year 2008 and 2009. Go look at the data yourself (be sure to look at all three workbooks). That number has undoubtedly increased, but its markedly different from the 1,930 being peddled and accepted at face value by many.

So, count me as a skeptic of the “positions eliminated” figure being anything more than window dressing. What really matters is the net change and for that, I’m waiting for the Comptroller’s office to release the 2009 CAFR, which will have a independent, apples-to-apples assessment of the net change in state workforce. I’ll report back when it comes out.