Last month Governor Tom Wolf’s administration quietly imposed a temporary hold on filling hundreds of vacant state jobs, including nearly 200 at the Department of Environmental Protection.
The administration says the move was necessary in the wake of Pennsylvania’s unprecedented budget impasse, which failed to fully fund government operations. But critics argue the decision lacks transparency and affects important jobs supported by outside revenue, not state funds.
“This step is necessary because of the failure of the Republican leaders to address Pennsylvania’s long-term structural budget deficit and pass a balanced budget with the revenue to support it,” says Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan in an email. “This is not a long-term solution, but is necessary on a temporary basis until we have a full budget.”
DEP Secretary John Quigley came under fire over the move at a House budget hearing Tuesday. Some of the unfilled vacancies in his agency are funded entirely by the federal government or fees imposed on the regulated community.
For example under Wolf’s directive DEP is temporarily barred from filling 24 vacant jobs in its oil and gas program, even though those positions are supported by permit fees from drillers– not the state’s General Fund.
Rep. John Maher (R- Allegheny) criticized the decision.
“Why would you come to us and say you don’t have enough people to oversee drilling when you choose not to use the permit fees provided to fill those positions?” he asked Quigley. “I think the time has come to stop complaining about your headcount and start owning it.”
Quigley responded by saying the department lacks the revenue to fill some of those oil and gas jobs because the recent drilling downturn caused permit activity to fall significantly. He says he’s also trying to convince the Governor’s Budget Office he can still hire people.
“If [the job] is federally-funded or special-funded, it has no impact on the General Fund,” says Quigley. “We have ways to increase staffing and not impact the General Fund. It requires us to explain to the Budget Office how some of our special funds work.”
The temporary limits span all state agencies under the governor’s jurisdiction, but spokespeople for the Wolf administration have repeatedly declined to give an overall total of the number of jobs affected.
Sheridan says the positions will not be eliminated but will go unfilled “until further notice.”