ANNAPOLIS — State employees on Wednesday were offered buyouts as part of an effort to reduce state employment and offset a looming state budget deficit.
The package, which offers a $15,000 lump sum payment and $200 per year for each year of service, was announced in a letter from state Budget Secretary David Brinkley to state employees Wednesday. Some state employees may also be eligible for three months of fully subsidized health benefits.
“As you know, one day after taking office, Governor Hogan presented a budget plan that significantly reined in State spending and – for the first time in nearly a decade – produced a structurally balanced budget,” Brinkley wrote in the letter sent to all state employees, excluding university system workers, who are not eligible. “Accomplishing this task required some very tough decisions, but in the end the budget was structurally balanced without eliminating agencies and programs, imposing furloughs, or eliminating filled State positions.”
Employees do not have to be eligible for retirement in order to take advantage of the program, according to details posted on the state Department of Budget and Management website.
Jeff Pittman, a spokesman for AFSCME, said the union is attempting to determine who is eligible for the buyout.
“It’s a little frustrating trying to determine who is eligible,” Pittman said. “It appears that some employees who are not eligible received emails because the state is not able to parse them out.”
Pittman said his organization believes employees at 24-7 operations such as state hospitals and prisons are excluded.
Employees must file an application for the voluntary program by March 13, but have until March 27 to rescind that application.
Not all employees who apply will be granted voluntary separation. Final approvals are scheduled to be made on April 24.
To be eligible, employees would need to leave their state jobs by April 28, according to the letter. Employees who participate cannot be rehired by the state for 18 months.
The state has scheduled seven sessions around the state to help employees learn more about the offering and decide if they want to participate.
The voluntary separation program is part of a plan to save $37.5 million through elimination of vacant positions and other employment reduction moves announced in January by then-Gov. Martin J. O’Malley.
At the time, state officials said they hoped to eliminate as many as 1,000 jobs through attrition and voluntary retirement. The plan was part of a set of budget cuts and other moves meant to help eliminate what was then estimated to be a $400 million shortfall in the current budget year.
A 2010 voluntary retirement program under O’Malley helped the state eliminate 600 jobs.
In late January, Hogan released his first budget, which contains 2 percent across-the-board reductions in state agencies’ allocations as well as a 2 percent reduction in salaries for state employees.
Pittman said the union is concerned about other possible job actions, including layoffs and furloughs, if enough people do not sign up for the voluntarily separation program.
“It’s a possibility and it’s a concern,” Pittman said.
Hogan’s budget does not specify how each agency would meet the 2 percent reduction goal. Legislative leaders including House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. have said that lawmakers may attempt to identify the cuts as they work on the budget.
“If you leave it to each agency secretary it doesn’t preclude layoffs or furloughs,” Pittman said. “If there is no roadmap on what the governor wants to do and how to achieve it, then those are possibilities.”
Douglass Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan, said there were no planned layoffs for state employees.
“Voluntary employee buyouts are a standard method used to reduce spending and find efficiencies in government, both being goals that Governor Hogan has pledged to achieve,” Mayer said in an emailed statement. “This particular buyout agreement was unanimously agreed upon by the Board of Public Works on January 7th and the governor is simply following through with it.”