Thursday, April 18, 2024

Audit: Louisiana state workers decrease, but pay costs rise

by Associated Press

Louisiana’s state government employee ranks have thinned over the last seven years, but the decline in workers hasn’t dropped the state payroll’s costs, according to a new audit released Monday.

Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office found that the number of state workers across dozens of executive branch agencies in Louisiana fell by nearly 4% from the 2012-13 budget year through the 2019-20 budget year.

Salary and hourly pay expenses, however, increased by more than 5% from $1.7 billion to $1.8 billion during that time, auditors found. And other employee costs for overtime, retirement and health care benefits — along with contracting costs for agencies — surged.

The report reviewed the payroll trends for the Cabinet departments controlled by the governor during part of both former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s and Gov. John Bel Edwards’ tenures. It also tracked the spending across agencies helmed by other elected and appointed officials: the lieutenant governor, agriculture commissioner, superintendent of education, insurance commissioner, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer and Public Service Commission.

That review showed a decline from 37,665 state workers in 2012-13 to 36,241 employees by the close of the 2019-20 financial year. Purpera’s office said nearly half the decreases involved employees who voluntarily resigned, while another 16% retired.

Agencies with some of the largest drops in employees included the education, tourism, labor and natural resources departments, auditors found. In some agencies, the number of workers grew, including in the health department.

Meanwhile, pay costs across state government increased primarily because of a 2017 pay scale redesign enacted by Edwards for rank-and-file workers, known as classified employees, who are overseen by state civil service rules and aren’t political appointees.

Supporters of the pay raises — the first adjustment to the pay scales in a decade — said they were aimed at improving worker retention at certain agencies and stopping the hefty training and other costs associated with high turnover.

The median rate of pay for those civil service employees increased by nearly 16%, auditors said, from $35,838 in the 2012-13 budget year to $41,445 by the last year reviewed. Those adjustments accounted for just under half of all the pay hikes during the time, the report says.

Other staffing costs also grew over the period reviewed.

Auditors say overtime expenses increased by $41 million and retirement and benefit expenses by $250 million. Agencies cited disaster response, such as the response to the 2016 floods across Louisiana, for many of the overtime expenses. But the report also says the state health, corrections and transportation departments blamed overtime charges on staffing shortages.

In addition, agencies also spent more on contract services, such as accounting teams, lawyers and technology support. Those charges grew by 39% across the years tracked by auditors, increasing from $345 million in the first year of the review to $479 million by the 2019-20 budget year, the report says.

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