Alaska Gov. Bill Walker gives his first State of the State address Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015, in Juneau, Alaska. Walker called on Alaskans to pull together, and not panic, as the state faces multibillion-dollar budget deficits amid a fall in oil prices. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker gives his first State of the State address Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015, in Juneau, Alaska. Walker called on Alaskans to pull together, and not panic, as the state faces multibillion-dollar budget deficits amid a fall in oil prices. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

Layoffs on the horizon for state employees

  • By Rashah McChesney
  • Thursday, February 5, 2015 9:22pm
  • News

As state employees waited for an official announcement of Gov. Bill Walker’s new budget, warnings of potential position cuts and layoffs filtered through union representatives to their constituents.

Walker’s office on Thursday released a pared down version of former Gov. Sean Parnell’s budget, one that recommended drastically reducing the state’s capital budget spending and eliminating funding for 308 employee positions.

“We expect more than half of those are currently vacant or are expected to be vacant through attrition or retirement,” said Director of the Office of Management and Budget Pat Pitney during a press conference.

Dennis Geary, acting Business Manager for the Alaska Public Employees Association, which represents state supervisors, human resources employees and others in what it calls the confidential bargaining unit, said the governor’s release may ease some of the tension he’s heard from state employees over the last few weeks.

“I can’t quantify how many emails I’ve received in the last month, but it’s clearly in the hundreds and it’s all folks concerned about, mostly the concern is about knowing something. The unknown is always far more scary than knowing what’s coming up,” he said.

In a mass email to union members Wednesday evening, Geary emphasized that the new budget document was a recommendation.

“The Legislature can obviously choose to reject the Governor’s recommendations and take action on their own,” he wrote.

Geary also wrote that potential layoffs would not happen until the next fiscal year and would likely not be known until April when the Legislature announces the final budget and the governor approves it.

“The administration informed us that there are no planned layoffs during the balance of FY15,” he wrote.

Several positions that were recommended for defunding were listed in the governor’s budget release.

Geary said the union was told by administration that commissioners were told to ensure that those employees be notified that their positions could be cut before the governor released his budget.

Other than the potential for layoffs, the budget recommendation contained a capital projects budget reduction of about $150 million — down from about $550 million last year.

Other reductions included several Cook Inlet-based research projects through the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Commercial area management biologist Pat Shields said his department was asked to prioritize projects. So far, four have been identified as potential cuts from next year’s budget including a stock identification and genetic sampling project on coho salmon; a sonar operating on the Yetna River, a Susitna River tributary; general funds that were used for a limnology lab in the Soldotna office; and a sockeye salmon smolt project on Fish Creek which drains into Big Lake.

Shields said that represented about $210,000 in funding cut from the commercial division of Fish and Game in the Soldotna office.

The elimination of those projects would like eliminate the need for seasonal staff or reduce the amount of time given to seasonal staff, he said.

“We’ll maintain our primary objective here of being able to manage the fisheries, we’re just going to lose data,” he said.

Reach Rashah McChesney at Rashah.mcchesney@peninsulaclarion.com.

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