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Jim Doyle
Gov. Jim Doyle

Since the summer, 211 state workers have been given notice that they are at risk of being laid off -- a number that will rise in the coming months, state officials said.

"We are headed toward some layoffs in state government. How far and how deep they'll go, I really can't predict," said Jennifer Donnelly, director of the Office of State Employment Relations. "That number is going to continue to rise."

The cuts are not nearly as excruciating as many of the layoffs seen at private employers around Wisconsin. But new numbers show the roughly 62,000 state workers are also feeling some pain from budget cuts approved by lawmakers and Gov. Jim Doyle at the end of June to bridge a nearly $7 billion budget shortfall. Doyle said in May that the budget cuts could lead to a loss of 700 state jobs.

With what is effectively a state hiring freeze preventing the replacement of most workers who leave or retire, the number of jobs being held vacant in state government increased by 760 positions, or 32 percent, from 2,394 in November 2008 to 3,154 as of late October, according to figures provided by OSER.

Donnelly said the layoff notices have hit workers in the departments of Administration, Commerce, Agriculture and Health Services and 20 workers so far have lost their jobs. The notices give workers a chance to look for another job and make it easier for them to be considered for another state position.

The 16 furlough days ordered by Doyle over two years - most state agencies were closed Friday for one of those mandated days without pay - helped avoid another 1,250 layoffs, Donnelly estimated.

Overtime hours for all state agencies dropped 12.8 percent in July through September of this year compared to the past year, which Donnelly said proves the furloughs aren't adding to state overtime costs. But in another sign of the difficult economy, the Department of Workforce Development -- the state agency handling unemployment claims -- saw its overtime hours more than double during that period.

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After accounting for positions added under the two-year budget that began July 1, state agencies excluding the University of Wisconsin System saw their work force shrink -- but only by a slight 105 jobs, from 30,368 in July to 30,263 at the end of October. Numbers for the UW System could not be obtained because of the Thanksgiving holiday and furlough day.

Bonuses and merit raises for state workers last year dropped to $985,000 from $4.9 million the previous year after Doyle halted them in November 2008 in response to the state's worsening financial condition.

Bryan Kennedy, president of American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin, which represents more than 10,000 professional state workers, said union members understood some cuts were inevitable.

"Morale would be different if the entire country wasn't suffering from an economic meltdown," Kennedy said. "We're all recognizing that everyone is going to give somewhere."

But Kennedy said expensive state contractors should also see cuts in state payments.

Rep. Robin Vos of Caledonia, the ranking Republican on the state budget committee, said the cuts to the state work force are much less than those seen in the private sector and won't be enough to keep the budget in balance once federal stimulus aid to the state runs out.

"We have not even scratched the surface of what's going to be required to bring costs under control in the long run," Vos said. "We know that this budget is in bad shape and it's not getting better."

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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