Gov. Bobby Jindal called for a limited hiring freeze Wednesday across most of state government, less than two weeks into the new state budget year.
Jindal issued an executive order that calls for saving $13 million by limiting and controlling the growth in state government positions.
Exempt from the freeze are higher education, public hospitals and elected officials. In his executive order, Jindal said higher education has a unique management structure.
Last year, the governor kicked off the budget year by ordering a similar hiring freeze.
“This is standard. He has done this every year,” said state Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro and the budget bill’s sponsor.
Fannin said the order will help state government control costs.
The state is grappling with the national recession and a revenue slump that forced a string of recent budget cuts.
Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, the governor’s top budget adviser, said the freeze will help in the management of the $25.6 billion state operating budget for the fiscal year that started July 1.
“Hiring freezes are extremely important fiscal management tools,” Rainwater said.
The executive order comes just days before the Jindal administration is scheduled to unveil a plan for cutting $859.2 million from the $7.7 billion Medicaid budget.
The cuts are necessary because of congressional action that occurred after the passage of the state budget.
A number of budget moves were needed to balance the current year’s budget even before health care funding diminished. Short of the money needed to keep state services at their current level, Jindal pulled together dollars by proposing property sales and taking money from funds scattered across state government.
His current year budget also whittled the number of state government positions by 6,177. The budget funds hospitals, schools and other public services.
Under the hiring freeze, the Division of Administration will give agencies a number of vacancies to maintain. Straying from the parameters of those numbers will require the Jindal administration’s approval.
Rainwater said the parameters still are under development and will be distributed to agencies that handle health care, veterans affairs, tourism, road improvements and other services. “Why are we doing this?” he said. “One is to manage the budget.”
Rainwater said previous hiring freezes ordered by Jindal collectively saved $107 million.
A hiring freeze, Rainwater said, will help the Jindal administration identify positions that can be eliminated. “It just makes sense,” Rainwater said.
Fannin said he has some concern that economists’ revenue projections will fail to meet targets yet again, requiring budget cuts in the current fiscal year.
Economists are struggling to predict spending and other state revenue sources during the recession. When they miss their targets, the budget must be cut.
Fannin said the hiring freeze is a good idea given the uncertain financial environment.
“The sooner we can take every step we can to manage our finances ... then I think that’s the right decision,” he said.