Secretary of Administration Justin Johnson called on agency and department heads to identify 150 to 325 state jobs to eliminate in a letter sent late Wednesday.
Johnson's boss, Gov. Peter Shumlin, has been counting on $10.8 million in unspecified labor savings to help bridge the state's $113 million budget gap. The administration has implored the Vermont State Employees Association to reopen a recently negotiated contract in order to find half of those savings, but so far the union has declined to do so.
"It seems unlikely that the State's labor contract will be reopened as part of the solution to balancing the budget," Johnson wrote Shumlin's secretaries and commissioners. "This situation leaves me with no alternative but to begin planning for a significant reduction in force across all sectors of Vermont state government to be effective July 2015, the start of the new fiscal year."
Johnson's letter appears designed to ratchet up pressure on the union by calling for specific job cuts to be identified. But VSEA executive director Steve Howard said Thursday his members do not intend to budge.
"We believe these [reductions in force] are unnecessary, that there are better ways to balance the budget that make more sense to the state, including asking the wealthiest Vermonters who've had all the economic gains in the last 10 years to pay a little more to support state services that their communities depend on," Howard said.
In his letter, Johnson provided specific savings targets for each agency and department and asked their heads to submit plans to his office by Monday. Hardest hit would be the Agency of Human Services, which must come up with $4.6 million in cuts, the Agency of Natural Resources ($1.3 million), the Agency of Administration ($1.2 million) and the Department of Public Safety ($1 million).
"To the degree possible, and considering operational and programmatic needs, I encourage you to consider the impact on individuals by focusing first on vacant positions and only looking to filled positions as a last resort," Johnson wrote. "Depending upon which positions and associated funding are earmarked, we could be looking at a range of 150 to 325 positions to reduce statewide."
While Howard said his members are willing to work with the administration to identify efficiencies, they will not reopen their contracts.
"Our membership is united," he said. "You bargain in good faith. You make a deal. And you need to stick by that."
Disclosure: Paul Heintz's partner, Shayla Livingston, is a state employee and member of the VSEA's legislative committee.