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Kennedy's misrepresentations undermine his credibility

Probably as a happy confluence of political ambition and real desire to reduce state spending, Louisiana Treasurer John Kennedy has not displayed any shyness in tossing out many ideas – most good, some already implemented, and a few unworkable – addressing the downsizing state government. But recent remarks of his on the topic have caused his credibility on the issue to take a big hit.

In a speech to a civic organization interested in politics, Kennedy threw out some bromides for cost-cutting about which he has stumped for some time, but then let go with one that may have left his listeners in disbelief: that the state has between 30,000 and 35,000 political appointees, who make an average of $80,000 a year. Subsequently, he repeated such numbers in a call into the Moon Griffon radio talk show.

As well the in-person and radio audiences should have felt in disbelief – because that simply is not true. According to the 2010 Annual Report of the Department of State Civil Service the head count for the state, which is a listing of every single job including temporary and part-time, was 95,243. In full-time equivalent terms, it equates to 87,740.71, but the number of permanent full-time employees only was 84,635.

Of the total headcount, 58,353 were classified, meaning that they were subject to a common set of rules regarding personnel practices, such as hiring, firing, promotion, pay, etc. These are based upon a merit system. The remaining 36,708 are considered the unclassified service, as defined in Art. X Sec. 2 of the Louisiana Constitution that lists 13 separate categories of positions. (None of these figures include staff members for legislators and their committees or for judicial branch officials, which are all political but governed by those branches of government; DSCS deals only with executive branch employees, including quasi-state agencies, plus a dozen of the Legislature’s).

It’s from this total that Kennedy may be deriving his figure. On the radio Kennedy only said he got the figures from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, but the 2010 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report listed a number about the same as reported by DSCS. If this number is on what Kennedy bases his assertion, it’s evident that Kennedy does not understand that most of the unclassified positions in state government are subject to separate merit requirements that in the classified service also with separate protections from non-merit-related (i.e., political) personnel actions that do not make them “political” appointees.

For example, almost three-quarters of the unclassified service, which comprise a majority of the employees in that functional area, are in higher education. Most of these are administrators, faculty members, and researchers (and includes adjunct instructors and students on work study) who compete for their positions on a merit basis and have a set of policy statements and memorandums, unaffiliated with regulations pertaining to the classified service, that govern personnel actions concerning them based on merit standards. Very few of them are subject to “at-will” hiring and firing by an elected or appointed official or body of some kind, which defines a “political” appointee.

While a request put into the director of DSCS asking if she could provide an exact figure of “political” appointees in state government – those who are considered state employees that may be hired and fired at will by some appointing authority – went unanswered, on reviewing the annual report, taking a rough estimate from the individual department numbers shown indicates that at most a few thousand fall into this typology. Kennedy’s salaries claim may apply to this bunch, but the overall average salary for all unclassified employees is only $61,860.78.

By his rhetoric, Kennedy does not appear to understand the fundamental difference between an “unclassified” employee and “political” appointee employed by the state. His leading the public to believe that a third of the state workforce, rather than an actual figure closer to one-twentieth, get their jobs because of politics misinforms, demeans state workers who demonstrate merit and not who they know to get employment, and irresponsibly contributes to the debate over state spending. As a state employee for much of the last 30 years and as Treasurer for the past dozen, Kennedy should know better and damages his credibility as a needed messenger for fiscal prudence by making such uninformed assertions.


Anonymous said...

I had read somewhere a while back that the actual number of political appointees was not readily available. So where is Mr. Kennedy getting his numbers. I doubt he means people in the education field.

Anonymous said...

Professor Sadow,

Your concerns over Mr. Kennedy's credibility is like the pot calling the kettle black.

Jeff Sadow said...

And that last comment is typical of those who do not have the facts on their sides, as I do in this space's argumentation. Otherwise, refutations rather than unsupported name-calling would appear.

Anonymous said...

I too would like the facts. However, it seems that very few of the facts are forthcoming. Just because a position is unclassified and is in the field of education does't necessarily mean that the position isn't political. In fact, if the average salary is $61,860, that would imply that the political jobs carry a greatly higher salary, given the relatively low pay for work/study students, graduate assistants, and adjunct faculty. Kennedy may have had the raw numbers incorrectly stated in absolute terms, but the lion's share of unclassified political pay is undoubtedly much higher. I wonder, for example, just how many of Kathleen Blanco's loyalists ended up in "unclassified" education positions. The answer is that we will never know, since there is no transparency in state government.