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BATON ROUGE, La.
Layoffs are a growing share of cuts to Louisiana's government work force, as agency chiefs are finding that shedding jobs through early retirements, attrition and hiring freezes don't always balance the books when the state shrinks spending.
Prison guards, health workers, attorneys, pilots, nuisance animal trappers, pharmacists, clerical staff and midlevel bureaucrats have gotten pink slips since budget cuts deepened over the last year and a half. More jobs will be lost in the upcoming budget year that begins July 1.
Gov. Bobby Jindal proposes eliminating 2,976 positions from the state's work force in the 2010-11 budget year.
More than 1,100 of those jobs are currently filled, mainly in the health department, according to data provided to The Associated Press by agencies this week. Another 400 were filled until midyear budget cuts forced layoffs at the health and social services departments.
Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis, the governor's top budget adviser, described the budget proposal as a "realignment of the size and cost of government to more sustainable levels," amid drops in state and federal revenue.
If lawmakers agree to the plans, jobs would be cut across state government, and several agencies, including the social services, natural resources and corrections departments, would have to lay off employees.
Hundreds of workers would lose their jobs in Department of Health and Hospitals, which is continuing an aggressive effort to privatize and consolidate state-run health facilities and steer patients to less-costly, community-based facilities.
"The reality is that we're too big and we need to be smaller," DHH Secretary Alan Levine told a legislative budget panel.
Lawmakers won't make a final decision on next year's budget until June. Cutting 2,976 jobs and the dollars that pay for them would save the state as much as $80 million next year, estimated state budget director Ray Stockstill.
Agency chiefs say they are doing everything they can to avoid layoffs, including offering workers other jobs in their departments when positions are cut. They say that as private companies take over the operation of state facilities, laid off workers could get jobs with those companies. And they say some jobs slated for cuts could become vacant as workers retire or quit before the new budget year starts.
DHH -- the largest agency in state government -- faces the most significant job cut proposed. Jindal recommended shrinking the department's work force by 1,944 positions, leaving DHH with about 9,400 jobs.
Some of those jobs would simply be transferred to other agencies, not eliminated. About 385 of the positions belonged to workers notified earlier this year they would be laid off as DHH hires private companies to operate state-run group homes for developmentally disabled residents.
But another 984 of the jobs slated to be cut have workers currently in them, most of them in state-run facilities proposed for privatization, like substance abuse treatment centers. Levine says many workers who would get pink slips from DHH could stay on at their jobs, hired by the companies running those facilities.
Jindal and his cabinet departments have started outsourcing or using technology for an array of tasks done by state workers, as a way to save money.
Louisiana's prisons are substituting cameras for guards in watchtowers and hiring an outside drug company to provide medication to inmates, rather than the two dozen pharmacists on staff. Workers at a Tallulah prison were laid off because the Department of Corrections shifted responsibility for running the prison to the local sheriff's office, though many of the workers were expected to stay on with the prison and move to the sheriff's payroll.
More layoffs are expected if the corrections department loses another 224 jobs as proposed.
Meanwhile, the Department of Social Services laid off two dozen workers earlier this year at the Louisiana Rehabilitation Services agency, which helps disabled Louisiana residents find jobs. And DSS is proposed to trim hundreds more jobs as part of a massive reorganization. The department has a number of vacant positions, but dozens of workers could lose their jobs.
"There is a good possibility that we might see some layoffs as we reorganize, and those would mainly be at the middle management and clerical positions," said Trey Williams, a spokesman for DSS.
After offering early retirement incentives and laying off pilots, mechanics and nuisance animal trappers, Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain said he hopes to avoid layoffs next year and cut only vacant positions.
"We laid people off last year, across multiple areas. We've done everything. We've done retirement packages. We've not filled through attrition," said Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain. "We're at the critical mass."