- Associated Press - Sunday, September 7, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas officials say the number of full-time state employees decreased slightly during the past fiscal year, the second decline in four years.

A study compiled by state budget administrator Brandon Sharp says the number of full-time workers dropped by 71 to 56,873 in the year ending June 30, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Sunday (https://bit.ly/1pEb9Q8 ).

The number of state employees at higher education institutions increased by 55 to 25,097. At other state agencies, it dropped by 126 to 31,776.

The study says state government’s full-time workers also dipped by 71 in fiscal 2011, but increased by 528 in 2012 and 65 in 2013.

The state workforce climbed every other year since fiscal 1987, the first year for which reliable workforce figures are available.

While full-time state government employees have dropped in number the last fiscal year, they “haven’t gone down much,” said Gov. Mike Beebe, who is barred from seeking re-election under the state’s term-limits amendment.

Beebe said some of the decline is the result of “natural attrition” among employees exiting near the end of his administration. He said another reason for the dip is “a desire to try to make things more lean in some areas, but that is offset by some growth” at the state’s colleges and universities. The higher education workforce has grown because student enrollment is rising, he added.

State Rep. Duncan Baird, co-chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee, said the slight dip in state government’s roster of full-time employees in fiscal 2014 “reflects the trend of flat-to-lower growth in personnel that we’ve seen the last couple of years.”

“From the legislative standpoint, these numbers reflect a general desire on the part of the Legislature to slow the growth of state government spending and lower the tax burden on Arkansas families and businesses,” Baird, a Lowell Republican, said.

Although the number of state workers declined, the total cost of state employees’ salaries and benefits increased by $191 million to $3.9 billion, according to another report compiled by Sharp.

Most state employees received 2 percent cost-of-living raises and were eligible for merit bonuses of up to 3 percent in fiscal 2014, Sharp said. In addition, the state’s contribution for most employees’ health insurance costs increased by $20 per month to $410 per month, he said.

Leslie Scott, executive director of the National Association of State Personnel Executives, said there’s been little change in the sizes of state workforces in most states.

While many states are seeing their tax revenue rise, their expenses for such programs as Medicaid and public schools also are climbing, Scott said.


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.arkansasonline.com

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