Kitzhaber to enact state hiring freeze, spending halt

Kitzhaber to enact state hiring freeze, spending halt
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (file image)

Gov. John Kitzhaber's administration implemented a hiring freeze and capped enrollment in some safety-net programs Tuesday because state revenue has been lower than expected.

The governor ordered the actions at the request of legislative leaders, who are preparing for a brief legislative session in February to address budget issues more extensively.

Read the memo

The hiring freeze applies to all state agencies, although positions "essential to the state's business" will be filled, Department of Administrative Services Director Michael Jordan wrote in a memo to agency heads. A committee will be established to approve hiring requests, he wrote. New classes of state troopers will be dropped.

Legislative budget leaders said they didn't want to hire anyone now who would have to be laid off in two months.

"We're not trying to target anything," said Rep. Dennis Richardson, a Republican from Central Point who co-chairs the Legislature's budget committee. "We're just trying to conserve assets because we think that's the prudent thing to do in our current economic climate."

Kitzhaber also suspended new enrollments in the Oregon Health Plan's "Standard" program, which provides free or low-cost health coverage for people without private insurance who don't quite meet the qualifications for Medicaid. The program already has a waiting list with more people interested in joining than the state can afford to include.

A program providing day care funding for working parents also won't take new enrollment, along with Project Independence, which helps seniors and people with disabilities to live in their own homes.

Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, called the enrollment freeze a "time out" to allow the Legislature to get a clear picture of the budget and ensure that the funding is sustainable. He said there have been no decisions to permanently cut or cap the programs.

"We're doing our best to try to take care of people," said Buckley, a budget committee co-chair.

The most recent projections from state economists, released last month, show the state is likely to collect about $300 million less than lawmakers assumed when they built the two-year budget earlier this year. The spending plan has significant reserves to guard against this possibility, but the Kitzhaber and key lawmakers have warned that some cuts are inevitable.

Kitzhaber said Monday that public safety and human services programs are likely to see the biggest cuts, and some state workers are likely to lose their jobs.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.