ANNAPOLIS – The number of full-time state employees grew 2 percent in the past decade, to 78,387, spurred by increases of 14 percent in college employees and 26 percent in public safety workers, according to a new report.
But those gains were offset by a massive 28 percent cut in the number of state school employees and a 25 percent drop in health and mental hygiene workers, according to the report last week from the Department of Legislative Services Office of Policy Analysis, the Legislature’s research arm.
The cuts in health workers are putting the squeeze on some of the remaining 8,000 state health workers, said the president of one Maryland’s largest unions of government workers.
“Some of the people who work in health and mental hygiene are feeling somewhat overwhelmed,” said Ruth Ann Ogle, president of the Maryland Classified Employees Association.
The overall 2 percent growth rate in the state payroll is due in large part to the addition of 2,800 new public safety and corrections workers and state police officers, said Lori O’Brien, a policy analyst with Legislative Services. She attributed the massive increase in those areas to recent openings of new correctional and booking facilities.
The state’s college and university system had the second-biggest increase in the ’90s, adding 2,500 new workers in the decade.
With 20,000 full-time workers, the university system employs more people than any other state agency. But most of those jobs are funded with block grants, tuition and fees — unlike positions in other agencies that are funded directly through the state budget, O’Brien said.
State Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-Baltimore, chair of the Budget and Taxation Committee, noted that if higher education employment growth is ignored, total state employment has actually decreased in the past 10 years by 1.6 percent.
“Maybe we need another index just for higher education,” she said. Hoffman noted that even though higher education funding passes through the General Assembly, legislators have little say in how that money is spent.
“We basically fill a sack of money and put it on the doorstep of the (Board of) Regents,” Hoffman said. “They’re accountable to us, but we can’t dictate what they spend the money on.”
As the state has added employees, it has reduced the proportion of contractual employees to full-time employees in several state agencies over the past three years, according to the report.
Juvenile justice experienced the largest such decrease, falling from a workforce that was 35 percent contractual employees in 1998-99 to just under 15 percent as of this October.
“Most of those positions were converted to regular (full-time) positions. It worked out nicely,” O’Brien said.
Converting contractual employees to full-time state workers pleases the MCEA, which said the contract workers usually have fewer benefits than their full-time counterparts.
“Often, they’re doing the same job for less pay, which also creates morale problems,” Ogle said.
But she also said that the proportion of contractual employees is too often reduced by privatizing those positions instead of converting them to state jobs. That transformation often leads to poorer pay and fewer benefits for workers, she said.
“MCEA has said for years that privatization of public service is a smoke- and-mirrors situation,” she said.
O’Brien said that privatization was not a factor in the reduction of contractual employees in the agencies included in the report. The report only analyzed agencies with a workforce that was more than 10 percent contractual at some point in the past three years, she said.