Photo by Stuart Cahill
Gov. Deval Patrick has added almost 2,000 new workers to the state payroll in the past year even as he warns of dire budget cuts in the face of a $1 billion deficit, a Herald review shows.
And his administration continues to dole out millions in overtime, with nearly 80 prison guards raking in more than $100,000.
A mid-year Herald payroll analysis reveals that since July 2007, the number of state jobs has jumped by about 1,900, many of them new hires in the Department of Correction and MassHighway.
The soaring payroll comes at a time when the state is stepping in to bail out a debt-ridden Mass Pike and being asked to do the same for the MBTA, and the governor is requesting special powers to cut the budget this fall if the local economy continues tanking.
"It's very worrisome," Jim Stergios, executive director of the Pioneer Institute, said of the hiring frenzy. "It's a problem, given that we're probably heading into a recession, and we've been borrowing extensively."
Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, said the state's report to the bond market last week also shows a disturbing work-force hike.
"This trend is very troubling given the huge economic uncertainties," Widmer said. "This is the time we should at least hold the payroll constant."
Stergios noted the state's "budget-funded" work force has risen steadily over the past five years by more than 5,500 employees.
And, he pointed out, once you hire a new state worker, "it's forever." Hefty pensions and health benefits come with the package.
In early July, Patrick asked lawmakers to grant him extraordinary budget-slashing power to make emergency cuts if the economy takes another turn for the worse.
"We've got to prepare for the economic trouble ahead," the governor said at the time.
For his part, Comptroller Martin J. Benison said the state payroll fluctuates, with the average number of paychecks cut by his office this year hovering around 104,500.
Paul Dietl, head of the state's Human Resources Department, said the current $5.3 billion payroll "is consistent with previous years."
Meanwhile, spokesmen for various state departments argue bridges must be repaired, prisoners guarded and universities staffed.
Department of Correction officials defend the scores of $100,000-plus prison guards as a necessary evil.
"The DOC is a 24/7 public safety operation with staffing requirements," said DOC spokeswoman Diane Wiffin.
Wiffin declined to comment on new hires for prisons, saying staffing details are confidential.
Jobs are also being added at Mass Highway, said department spokesman Klark Jessen, mostly because bridge repairs are now on the fast track under the state's Accelerated Bridge Program.
As for the University of Massachusetts system - home to some of the state's top-paid employees - it's the price you have to pay for "leaders in their fields," said UMass spokesman Robert P. Connolly.
The UMass system, he said, boasts almost 18,000 employees, up by less than 100 since January.
As for the lofty pay, Connolly said UMass "benchmarks" salaries with "peer institutions" to attract top talent to the state.
But Barbara Anderson, founder of Citizens for Limited Taxation, said it's time for state officials to get off "the gravy train."
"They just don't get it. It's over. Even in Massachusetts, there's a limit," she said. "We've reached that time."
Some salaries skewed by 'quirk in system':