By MATTHEW HALL
Capital News Service
LANSING – The number of state employees fell by more than 12,000 between 2002 and 2012, a drop of more than 20 percent, according to Civil Service Commission data.
There were about 61,500 state employees in 2002, which fell to 47,800 in 2012. That excludes employees of the 15 public universities.
The decrease occurred steadily through both Democratic and Republican administrations under Govs. John Engler, Jennifer Granholm and Rick Snyder.
The reasons for the trend vary.
“Technology has helped in some areas to reduce the need for staff,” said Kurt Weiss, the public information officer for the Department of Technology, Management and Budget. “From the early 2000s through the end of the decade, the state continually faced budget deficits, which also had a lot to do with the reduction in workforce.”
Robert Schneider, the director of state affairs at the Citizens Research Council, pointed out that the trend coincided with the skyrocketing costs of health care.
The council is a nonprofit public affairs research group.
“The average cost of an individual state employee has gone up pretty significantly,” Schneider said.
“High growth in health insurance costs and a significant increase in retirement pension costs due to the recent stock market turmoil contribute to that, as does the state’s recent decision to begin setting aside money for future retiree health care costs.”
Health care costs have been tied to increases in spending by the Department of Corrections, even as employees there have continued to be cut.
That department had about 13,500 employees last year, down from 17,500 a decade earlier.
“The cost of prisoners has continued to go up because of the cost for health care, mental health and for all the things the state has to provide them,” said Weiss. “With Corrections you see a pretty substantial spending increase.”
Craih Thiel, also of the council, said privatization efforts of the state, especially at the Department of Corrections, played a role.
“There were limits on how many positions departments were able to fill, so they either had to be more productive or they hired out the work,” he said.
Barbara Levine, an associate director with the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending, noted the impact of the losses and increases in spending.
“The biggest piece of the Corrections budget is personnel costs. Even though the number of personnel has gone down, the cost per person has gone up in large part because of health care costs and salary increases,” she said.
“It’s not programs for prisoners that’s driving the budget, but rather personnel,” Levine said. “The cost savings have been in reducing food costs. Of course that’s about to be privatized and we’re about to find out how much worse the food can get.
“They’ve reduced the number of uniforms prisoners get from three to two and they’ve increased the costs of prisoner phone calls. They’ve reduced visiting hours in order to reduce the amount of staff they need to assign to visiting rooms.”
Taken as a whole, however, personnel costs are large but only a relatively small part of state government spending, said Jeff Guilfoyle, also of the council. Payroll for the state comprises just over 11 percent of the budget.
The Department of Technology, Management and Budget was one of the only agencies with a significant growth in the number of employees during the past decade, from 1,700 to 2,600.
The other was the Department of Education with about a hundred new employees.
By MATTHEW HALL