Baker implements hiring freeze as legislature overrides budget vetoes

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A hiring freeze takes effect across the executive branch Monday, part of the Baker administration’s plans to hit a $100 million “efficiency savings” target in the new state budget.

Administration and Finance Secretary Kristen Lepore outlined the hiring controls in a July 15 memo, and said the freeze would continue through her secretariat’s “spending plan process.”

“The policy exempts certain positions critical for the public health, direct care, public safety, and employees returning from leave,” Lepore wrote in her memo, attaching a lengthy list of positions that could qualify as exceptions to the freeze.

In her memo, Lepore instructed state agencies to withdraw any current job postings that they will not be able to fill under the policy and to notify job applicants, as necessary, “that job postings have been eliminated due to fiscal restraints.”

The state recently provided “business process redesign training” to more than 200 senior managers, and Lepore encouraged state officials to look back on that training and think creatively.

“We have a talented and creative workforce who can rise to this challenge,” Lepore wrote. “As the Governor indicated in his comments to our state employees, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention. I know that when you add the talent, experience and creativity of our workforce and managers, we will find great results with the resources we have.’ ”

While Baker’s team is trying to put the brakes on spending with its new personnel policy, the Legislature is packing appropriations back into the state budget over the governor’s objections.

In a lightning round of veto override votes that stretched for several hours on Saturday, the Legislature appeared to have restored about $100 million in spending to favored accounts. Lawmakers guaranteed spending on an array of accounts, including pediatric palliative care, the Bay State Reading Institute, career centers, pre-school partnerships, and their own budgets in the Legislature.

Baker vetoed $256 million from the $39.1 billion fiscal 2017 budget, warning the bill did not include about $250 million in appropriations that he is confident the state will need to make this fiscal year.

Legislative leaders may not be finished overriding budget vetoes. They have sessions scheduled Saturday and Sunday, July 30-31, when they could restore additional spending through veto overrides.

On July 8, Baker issued his vetoes and signed a $38.92 billion annual budget that he said solved for declining revenue projections that have limited the state’s ability to invest despite a growing economy.

The budget signed by Baker increased spending over the previous fiscal year by just $489 million, or 1.3 percent, after officials blamed sluggish stock market performance for their overly optimistic assumptions that forced an eleventh hour budget bill overhaul.

Tax collections in June, usually one of the biggest collection months of the year, were down nearly 1 percent compared to last June and missed the monthly budget benchmark by $173 million, the Baker administration announced on Thursday.

Total tax collections in fiscal 2016 of $25.267 billion were up by $550 million or 2.2 percent from fiscal 2015 and $484 million below the budget benchmark.

Lepore said the state is eliminating its paper-based system of approving waivers to the hiring freeze and will use a single approver, rather than multiple approvers, to handle waiver requests.

— Written by Michael P. Norton

Copyright State House News Service