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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

With The Budget Axe Swinging, Steve Beshear Seeks To Protect 81 Appointed Policy Advisors And Assistants.

Beshear seeks to spare jobs of 81 appointees

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) -- Gov. Steve Beshear is trying to spare the jobs of dozens of political appointees whose positions are set to be eliminated at the end of the year under a new budget-cutting law.

Beshear's office says the group of 81 officials includes policy advisers and special assistants whose positions are essential. The governor wants the Kentucky Personnel Board to exempt the employees from the new law.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports the request has detractors among rank-and-file state workers.

"Many of these jobs don't actually do anything that serves the public," said Melissa Jan Williamson, vice president of the Kentucky Association of State Employees. "Most of the public service is performed by the merit workers, who are paid less and who are being furloughed."

Merit workers are especially unhappy about political appointees because the merit workers were required to take six days of unpaid furlough this fiscal year, Williamson said. Beshear said furloughs are needed to trim payroll costs and balance the budget. But the state would be better served if Beshear eliminated the political jobs that provide negligible value, she said.

Policy advisers on average start with a $75,729 annual salary, and special assistants on average start at $61,980. Beshear didn't submit names, just titles and agencies, when he made the request.

"While some of these non-merit positions are called 'assistants,' they include deputy commissioners, deputy directors, general counsels, policy advisers and the chief public health nurse - positions that remain essential to the service of the agency or cabinet," Beshear spokeswoman Kerri Richardson said.

She said the 81 jobs are necessary but that the administration is committed to reducing the cost of appointed positions by $5 million by June 30, when the fiscal year ends. She said the administration doesn't know how many other appointees are expected to lose their jobs Dec. 31. She said state agencies are reducing appointed positions through retirement, attrition and layoffs but that she didn't have numbers available.

Governors traditionally put hundreds of political appointees on the state payroll, and the employees serve at the governor's pleasure, unlike merit workers, and usually leave with the governor.

The legislature tried to force Beshear to curb political appointments last winter, in response to the state budget shortfall. Beshear said then that the state had 826 full-time appointees. The Herald-Leader reported the most recent data shows the number was up to 856 by Sept. 29.

A bill Beshear signed into law limits the number of mid-level appointees to no more than one per cabinet secretary, commissioner or office chief. Any positions in excess are to be abolished Dec. 31 unless granted a reprieve by the Personnel Board.

Beshear's request came before the board in November, but it postponed action until its next meeting on Dec. 10. Chairman Cecil Dunn said the board wants to know more about the appointees' duties and their necessity.

"We were told these are all, quote, kind of policy-making positions, they help decide policy," Dunn said. "I'm not sure I understand what that means. That's one of the things we're going to have to find out."

Lawmakers said earlier this year that they worried about the rising cost of political patronage when essential state services are being cut.

"I hope that as it makes this decision, the Personnel Board considers the state of the economy right now, where we have 10 percent unemployment, as well as the state budget," Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown and chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Committee, said this week.

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