Sizing up the State Payroll
By eliminating 5,000 state government jobs through attrition and early retirement incentives, Governor George Pataki’s proposed 2002–03 budget would return the total executive branch headcount to its lowest point in nearly two decades and ultimately save about $275 million a year, according to an analysis of quarterly full-time employee (FTE) estimates from the state comptroller’s office.  Not counting the prospective job cuts, taxpayers are now saving $676 million annually as a result of the net reduction in the state workforce over the past seven years.
As illustrated in the chart below, the total number of FTE state workers has remained much lower under Pataki than under his predecessor, Mario Cuomo.
New York State Employee Headcount
Source: Office of the State Comptroller, based on payrolls as of last September pay period
As counted by the comptroller’s office, the state workforce reached a high of just over 257,000 workers under Cuomo in 1990. Budget shortfalls prompted a sharp payroll reduction in 1991, but state employment had risen back to 242,000 FTEs by the time Cuomo left office in 1994.
By 1996, Pataki had succeeded in cutting that total to an average of just over 222,000—roughly 20,000 fewer than when he took office, and some 35,000 below Cuomo’s 1990 peak. By 2001, however, the estimated total number of FTE workers has risen back to 230,000. Virtually all of the increase over the past four years can be accounted for in two categories:
The state Legislature’s total staff FTE count was 3,785 as of September 2001—down 410 positions (or 10 percent) from the 1994 level. Even with this reduction, however, New York’s Assembly and Senate remain the most heavily staffed legislative bodies in the nation. 
Savings from a smaller workforce
Excluding the legislative and judicial budgets, the planned workforce reduction would bring the headcount for executive branch agencies down to 204,721—nearly equal to the lowest level of Pataki’s tenure. 
The total state budget for agency operations and the category known as “general state charges”—which consists largely of pensions and health benefits—has risen about 13 percent in real terms since 1995, compared to 17 percent for the rest of the budget. But absent the hiring limits Pataki imposed on most executive agencies, the increase would have been far worse. At current average salary and benefit rates, a 1994–level state workforce would cost an additional $676 million this year. If state employment equaled the peak level of 1990, salary and benefit costs would be at least $1.6 billion higher. Pataki’s planned workforce reduction, which won’t be complete until March 2003, ultimately should ultimately save about $275 million a year, not including the as-yet unspecified costs of any early retirement incentive. 
POSTED: JANUARY 30, 2002