Joint Finance Committee co-chairs Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) sent the Department of Administration Secretary Joel Brennan an aggressive letter on Oct. 31, instituting a new requirement on executive branch agency positions and simultaneously rejecting a request from Gov. Tony Evers’ administration to create 60 new state jobs.
The co-chairs state that they will no longer fill jobs unless an equivalent vacant position is abolished.
“This letter is to inform you that going forward, position requests from agencies that are recommended for approval and forwarded to the Committee should identify equivalent vacancies as an offset to the newly requested positions,” wrote Darling and Nygren. “We also ask that you resubmit the requests dated September 24 and October 22 to meet this condition.”
The letter cited an attached Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) memo Nygren requested laying out vacant positions and how long they have been vacant and the funding source used for those positions.
The agenda items on these positions were pulled just before JFC began its meeting, meaning that any agency staff, secretaries or members of the public who thought they would be on the agenda may have shown up, in a snowstorm, to listen or answer questions at the JFC meeting.
“This is lazy and petty politics. Republicans in the legislature clearly don’t want to do their jobs, but Gov. Evers was elected to put the people of Wisconsin first and that is what he is doing by moving forward on important priorities,” responded Melissa Baldauff, spokeswoman for Gov. Tony Evers. “The administration has made these requests in accordance with state statute and we will not be re-submitting them. If Republican leadership chooses to deny the administration’s requests, and instead prefers to stand in the way of critical investments in broadband expansion, mental health resources, public safety, agriculture and economic development, they will have to own those decisions to the people of Wisconsin.”
The letter cites 4,000 vacancies, but Rachel Janke writes in the LFB memo, “Given that position information from the payroll system represents a particular point in time, it can be misleading to review total vacancy data as of a specific date. While a position may be identified in the payroll system as being vacant, this could occur because an individual recently vacated the position and the relevant state agency has not had time to recruit new candidates to fill the position.”
The memo states that 1,468.37 positions had been vacant for more than six months or longer and 600 had been vacant for over a year.
However the LFB memo adds a few cautions about assuming that vacant positions are not needed.
“While positions may be identified as vacant as of September 26, 2019, it is likely that, for many positions, the relevant state agency is currently in the process of recruiting individuals to fill the positions, or has completed the recruitment process,” states Janke’s LFB memo. She adds that some may already be filled.
Other reasons a position might be vacant, she notes, are that some agencies cannot fill positions due to budgetary constraints, the inability to recruit qualified individuals, or because grant funding is depleted. “The vacancy status of a position may not be indicative of the merit of the existence of the position. Further the salary and fringe benefit funding associated with the vacant position my still be utilized by the agency to address other agency needs, such as overtime, limited-term employee costs, and supplies and services costs necessary to perform the duties of a vacant position.”
Darling and Nygren did not rule out the possibility of creating any new positions, but they did tell Brennan, “Only in extraordinary situations will new positions without offsets be created.”
Before signing off, Darling and Nygren injected a few sharp barbs for Gov. Evers:
“This Committee stopped over a billion dollars in tax increases, enormous spending increases and a huge expansion of the welfare state that were all proposed by Governor Tony Evers in his budget. His budget, as proposed, would have left the state with a $2 billion structural deficit and created over 700 new state positions. State taxpayers expect us to be good stewards of their tax dollars.
“This Committee will be the check on wasteful spending that the Governor has shown himself to be incapable of.”
Added Evers’ spokeswoman Baldauff: “It is sad that Republican leadership has such little regard for public service and the important work of governing that they try to make everything a fight.”
The co-chairs letter was signed, “Respectfully, Alberta Darling and John Nygren.”