Georgia begins a new budget year July 1 with a smaller state workforce -- but how much smaller?
In a May 7 news release acknowledging Gov. Nathan Deal’s signing of the new budget, Deal’s office said the state had trimmed its workforce by 12.4 percent since the recession began in the 2008 fiscal year. We thought a claim that the state has shed one out of every eight of its employees deserves a second look.
The boast of job cuts was a throw-in line in a news release in which Deal talked about using his line-item veto power to "eliminate wasteful or inefficient spending," but the statement made its way into news accounts across the state, including an Associated Press story.
Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said the numbers originated from the State Personnel Administration, a department that essentially serves as the human resources department for much of state government. The department has kept a running tally of state workers since 1998.
Robinson forwarded a spreadsheet showing the ebbs and flows of state offices from accounting to workers’ compensation. Fiscal 2008 -- which ended June 30, 2009 -- was the peak year with 82,080 workers drawing a state paycheck.
Since then, the overall number has declined each year. Among the offices taking the most losses:
-- The Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection, which went from 96 employees in 2008 to 47 by the end of fiscal 2011, a cut of 51 percent.
-- The Student Finance Commission, which dropped from 41 employees in 2008 to 29 in 2011 a loss of 29.3 percent.
-- The Insurance Commissioner’s Office, which fell from 251 employees to 190, a decline of 24.3 percent.
Deal just took office in 2011, so he cannot claim all the credit for shrinking state government. But the trend has continued under his leadership.
Not every area of state government shrank, though. The state Defense Department, the State Road and Tollway Authority and the Technical College System all added workers.
Most departments showed a loss of some sort, but is the 12.4 percent brag accurate?
Robinson said the news release compared the 2008 figure with the "most recent workforce number available," which he said was a December 2011 figure of 71,881. That’s a difference of 10,199 employees from the end of fiscal 2008 -- a 12.4 percent decrease. Right on the button. (For sticklers, these measurements are of actual full-time workers, not positions that may or may not be filled, so it is a more accurate measure of the size of the government’s workforce.)
But there was something missing. The spreadsheet lists 76 different offices and departments, but the University System of Georgia was not among them. Why?
Robinson said the Office of Planning and Budget provided the information and the OPB considers University System employees different from other state workers for a couple of reasons. The first is where they get their money.
A statement from the OPB forwarded by Robinson said the University System can offset budget cuts with higher tuition and avoid cuts where other offices don’t have that option.
That’s true to a point. Other areas of government can offset state budget cuts by increasing revenue elsewhere, such as Georgia Public Broadcasting with fundraising.
The other reason the University System was left off was a matter of interpretation. According to the statement, the OPB believes "there is a distinct difference" between education and the rest of state government.
Without arguing that distinction, the figures Robinson initially provided include the Department of Education, the Department of Early Care and Learning, and the Technical College System. So some educational figures were included in the overall state count.
Perhaps the most persuasive reason Deal’s news release didn’t include the university employment numbers is because they weren’t available. That data is kept by the Board of Regents and is not integrated into the state’s human resource database.
Robinson said the governor’s office asked for employment figures and worked with what it had.
"According to OPB, what we used accurately reflects how the state has historically discussed state job numbers," he said.
Are university employees "state workers"? A reasonable person might conclude they are, so we asked for those numbers.
What we found was significantly higher employment among the state’s colleges and universities.
In fiscal 2008, the University System had 40,155 employees. Today, 45,592 are on the payroll. That’s a 13.5 percent increase.
Add those figures to the rest of state employment and you get 122,235 workers in 2008 and 117,473 today -- a 3.9 percent decrease.
The statement in Deal’s news release about the shrinking of state government overreaches significantly. It does not include University System employees, a striking omission.
Include those employee and you still see a decrease. But it’s a much smaller one than the governor claimed.
We rate Deal’s statement Mostly False.