The size of Maine’s state government workforce has shrunk by nearly 1,000 positions, or 7 percent, over the last 10 years. Three primary factors have contributed to the contraction. First, the severity of the Great Recession of 2008-09 led to budget balancing measures that included position eliminations. Secondly, to enhance flexibility and improve response some work performed by state employees was transferred to private contractors. Finally, there was the LePage administration’s zeal to streamline government functions and reduce operating costs.
The consequences of the workforce reductions in state government, both positive and negative, continue to be felt across Maine, which helps to explain why lawmakers at the Statehouse are reviewing proposals to authorize new positions to perform critical functions. Two critical areas of service deserving of heightened attention are the protection of vulnerable and at-risk children and public safety and law enforcement.
Governor Janet Mills has introduced a $127-million supplemental budget, which the Legislature is now considering. Included among the 21 separate spending initiatives that make up the supplemental proposal are two that address the need for additional state workers.
Governor Mills has proposed spending $1.5 million to hire at least 20 more Child Protective Services caseworkers at the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). These 20 positions are in addition to the 62 new positions created in the state budget adopted last year.
Deliberating legislators should weigh the analysis of a recent DHHS report that suggests the agency needs at least twice that many caseworkers to keep up with current child protective caseloads.
This winter, Maine State Police officials proposed reducing the level of their participation in a longstanding call sharing agreement with sheriff’s offices in Hancock and Washington counties. Their reason? Staffing shortages at Maine State Police. The impact of this proposed service reduction will be higher property taxes generated to off-set the heavier burden on the sheriffs and delayed response time as the local dispatch prioritizes emergency 911 calls.
The Governor’s supplemental budget also proposes 10 new state trooper positions and four new sergeants to address chronic shortages within the ranks of the Maine State Police.
Again, we call on legislators to consider the importance of fully staffing those child protective and law enforcement duties and responsibilities that are assigned to and exclusively borne by our government for the security and safety of Maine citizens.