Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's order in March imposing a hiring freeze in state government had an impact, albeit a marginal one.
According to the state Budget Office, the state had a total of 38,202 full-time equivalent employees on Feb. 28. As of July 31, the number was 37,812. That's a decline of 390 FTEs, or barely more than 1 percent of the payroll.
Assuming an average salary of $30,000 (on the high side, I know), the freeze may have saved the state about $3.4 million in payroll -- a proverbial drop in the bucket to fill what turned out to be a $45 million hole in the 2012-13 budget.
Among constitutional officers, Tomblin did his part, as the payroll in the governor's office dropped from 53 to 52 employees.
The attorney general's office payroll dropped by 10, to 178.26 employees (part-timers show up as fractions), while the secretary of state's office fell 2.5 positions to 51. Agriculture fell six positions, to 327.75 FTEs, and the auditor lost four FTEs, to 194.75.
Treasurer John Perdue's office grew, however, from 130 to 133.2 FTEs.
The Legislature was unchanged, at 220.5 FTEs.
The Supreme Court (technically, the whole state court system) grew by 23 positions to 1,371.55, primarily because of new counselors hired for mandated expansion of drug courts and additional parole officers for required additional pre-sentencing risk assessments under the Justice Reinvestment Act. (Constitutionally, of course, the court was not obligated to follow the executive order.)
Among large departments, Health and Human Resources dropped by 40 to 5,707.32; Military Affairs and Public Safety fell 90 to 5,242.5 and Transportation decreased 9.5 to 5,507.5. Higher Education dropped 172 FTEs, to 12,197.59 for both four-year and community colleges.
Regarding last week's item about how the surge in vehicle purchases to take advantage of the state's generous alternative fuel vehicle tax credit caused a 11.6 percent spike in privilege tax collections, Dave McMahon -- the only legislative lobbyist representing poor people -- noted he's tried for years to repeal the 5 percent tax.
He said the tax is particularly regressive, since most buyers roll the tax payment in with total costs when they finance a vehicle. So not only does the privilege tax raise the purchase price of a $25,000 car to $26,250, but interest payments on the auto loan pushes that cost even higher.
Unfortunately, from McMahon's perspective, the governor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways is looking at raising the tax from 5 percent to 6 percent as one of the ways to close the state's $600 million a year funding gap for state roads.