Sizing up the State Payroll
FISCALWATCH MEMO
January 30, 2002

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. [1] 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
1983-2001

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’s court system has added 2,000 employees—an increase of nearly 15 percent. This represents the fastest expansion of the Judiciary since the state takeover of local courts more than two decades ago. [2]
  • Staffing at the State University of New York and City University of New York rose by 5,200, driven largely by enrollment increases at both institutions. However, the basis for estimating SUNY and CUNY headcounts changed in 1998, so the actual increase in staffing may have been significantly different than latest figures would indicate. [3]

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. [4]

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. [5]

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. [6]

Notes

  1. The comptroller’s office says its count of FTEs is “approximate, not exact,” and may be inflated in some agencies by the occasional hiring of temporary, part-time employees and by overtime usage. Estimated FTE headcounts for “filled salaried positions” are presented in most agency narrative sections of the Governor’s Executive Budget, but his Budget Division has not released a summary or compilation of these employee tallies. Thus, the comptroller’s data remain the best available for tracking long-term trends.
  2. The Governor is constitutionally disallowed from altering the appropriations requests of the Judiciary or the Legislature in his Executive Budget, although he can recommend changes in those budgets as part of his financial plan. In contrast to Cuomo, who often feuded with the state’s chief judge over financial matters, Pataki generally has not challenged the Judiciary budget.
  3. SUNY and CUNY function as quasi-autonomous units and are not subject to the hiring controls imposed on other executive branch agencies by the Governor’s Budget Division. The university budgets are partly supported by tuition and grant revenue. In addition, about a quarter of SUNY’s workforce is employed at its teaching hospitals.
  4. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
  5. The 2002-03 Executive Budget estimates the executive branch headcount after the planned reductions will stand at 191,000. The budget, for reasons that are not clear, counts 5,000 fewer SUNY positions than the comptroller’s office, which explains a portion of the discrepancy. Ultimately, the differences between the two headcounts are rooted in different methodologies for counting workers. The comptroller’s figures are based on FTE counts as reported by agencies through the state payroll system, while the Budget Division counts “filled, salaried positions” on a budgeted basis.
  6. The preceding estimates are based on the weighted bi-weekly salary for all government employees in September 2001, as reported by the comptroller, plus 15 percent for health and pension benefits (a total of $55,185 per employee).

POSTED: JANUARY 30, 2002

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