A high-ranking Shumlin administration official says the Republican candidate for governor inappropriately used a report to the Legislature made last January to score political points amid the Vermont State Police overtime scandal.
Jeb Spaulding, secretary of the Agency of Administration, challenged Randy Brock’s assertions on Friday. Spaulding said the Shumlin administration noticed overtime was tracking higher than it should within the first few weeks of taking office and held a Cabinet meeting on overtime shortly after taking office.
“It’s the campaign time of year, but I actually thought it was a pretty cheap political stunt,” Spaulding said. “I took offense that somehow here we’re asleep at the switch.”
Brock, a former state senator and state auditor, held a last-minute press conference on Thursday to decry the alleged overtime fraud perpetrated by a state trooper who was a 22-year veteran of the force.
In the next breath, he criticized the Shumlin administration’s management of overtime pay for all state employees, pointing to a document he said he had just received — an annual report from the Vermont Department of Human Resources. He tried to deflect questions about why he was holding a press conference shortly after Maine Gov. Paul LePage compared IRS officials with the Gestapo at a previous press avail that day. Brock said he added the press conference to his schedule because he said he had just received the human resources report.
The report was released to the Legislature on Jan. 15, according to Kate Duffy, commissioner, of the department, who says she gave testimony on the issue last legislative session.
“There was no information ‘he just got’ that he didn’t already have,” Spaulding said. “To somehow say … that he just got this is 100 percent BS.”
Overtime expenditures were $16.2 million and increased by 12.5 percent in fiscal year 2011. Gov. James Douglas was in office the first six months of that fiscal year. Seventy percent of the overtime increases were in the public safety, corrections and transportation. Spaulding issued a memo to agency and department heads on Feb. 28, 2011, and said that in the first six months of 2011, the state had spent $9 million on overtime already. He emphasized “that this level of overtime expense cannot be sustained.”
The state will pay $18.5 million for overtime in 2012, according to a spreadsheet from the Department of Human Resources. The increase is 14 percent.
Duffy says overtime costs would likely have been flat if it weren’t for $2.5 million in fiscal year 2012 expenditures related to Tropical Storm Irene. Transportation workers put in long hours to repair roads; state troopers helped residents cope with the emergency; state hospital employees worked multiple shifts far from home to care for patients; and department of Buildings and General Services workers cleaned up the flood devastation that destroyed the Waterbury State Office Complex and displaced 1,500 workers. The state spent $1 million more on overtime for mental health workers, and $1.2 million more on transportation employees in 2012.
More generally, Spaulding says overtime increases are tied to state employee position cuts during the recession.
“If you cut 650 employees, you still have to guard the prisons, plow roads and protect the public,” Spaulding said. “It’s no surprise it (overtime) went up.”
Spaulding pointed to Brock’s claim that overtime pay in the lottery division, which spent $17,000 in overtime pay went up to $45,000 the following year, an increase of 160 percent. One sick employee in the division could have skewed the numbers, he said. Overtime at the lottery went down 42 percent in 2012 to $26,000.
“When you are talking such small numbers, it is easy to get big swings in percentages,” Spaulding said. “He (Brock) was manipulating statistics to make political hay, and he should know better.”
Vermont State Employees Association, which supported Shumlin in the last political campaign, has long recommended that the state rehire workers to fill voids in certain areas, particularly the Department of Corrections.
Conor Casey, director of government relations for VSEA, says the overtime increase was triggered by what he called the “Douglas-Lunderville” cuts during the last three years of the Douglas administration’s tenure in office. Workers’ relationship with Shumlin has also been rocky at times. State employees recently sued the Shumlin administration for overtime pay, and negotiations over post-Irene overtime got sticky last year.
“You don’t have to be an economic genius to know that less bodies in state government results in more overtime,” Casey said. “We were vocal about the need to add more positions in the Department of Corrections. Employees have been working double shifts and sleeping in their cars until the next shift.”
Adding new employees to the payroll in lieu of overtime is “a hard sell” in this economy, Duffy said, but the administration has been able to get a number of positions, about 65 hires as of June 30, approved by the Legislature this year.
In 2011, the state had a total of 7,742 workers, according to a summary of “statistical highlights” on page 13 of the Department of Human Resources January workforce report. Since March the state has brought on 65 new workers, bringing the total to 8,373. The average total compensation package for exempt (administration hires) and classified workers, including benefits is $74,595.
“I understand that it’s been some tough times for many people and many Vermonters are being asked to do more,” Duffy said. “At the same time I sympathize with many state employees who are strapped. I’m impressed with state employees. They are working very hard. It’s not a matter of not analysis, it’s a question of balance.”
Duffy said the administration is considering whether it makes sense to create a third shift for state troopers.
In order to see if a third shift would save money, her department must analyze whether new employees with benefits and base salary would save money compared with overtime costs. She said the state would need to conduct “a fairly comprehensive analysis to make assessment” of each department’s overtime patterns and staffing.
CORRECTION: A private attorney is suing on behalf of state workers, not the VSEA, as originally reported.