88 state workers lose jobs to budget cuts

Posted: Friday, August 01, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) Alan Love spent Thursday closing up the state chemistry lab in Juneau.

After working at the lab for 17 years, four as the lab's director, Love, 62, is one of 88 state workers who lost their jobs to budget cuts this year.

For the next few months, Love will hold a temporary position with the Department of Environmental Conservation until he finds work elsewhere or retires.

According to the state Office of Management and Budget, 370 state positions, 213 of which were vacant, have been eliminated this year. Sixty-nine of the deleted positions were due to departmental consolidations.

Forty-one full-time, part-time and non-permanent state jobs were cut in Anchorage, 31 in Juneau, three in Fairbanks and 13 in other parts of the state, said Cheryl Frasca, state budget director. She said the numbers do not reflect personnel cuts within the court system or the University of Alaska.

Besides the year-round state jobs lost in Juneau, the state correspondence program Alyeska Central School lost 18 seasonal employees with the closure of its summer program. The staff of 38 during the regular school year lost another 10 employees who have retired or found jobs elsewhere.

Love's wife Lesley, 62, was one of the summer school teachers laid off.

''If I was 40, I would have felt a little more panicked than I am now,'' Alan Love said, noting that he could enter into retirement or semiretirement if he is unable to find a new job.

''Getting old isn't all bad,'' he said.

The primary role of the state chemistry lab was certifying private chemistry labs throughout the state so that they meet federal standards for testing public drinking water and marine water, Love said. The lab also developed methods for analyzing oil and chemical spills.

The state instead will contract work out to other private labs, for a savings of about $334,000, according to the Murkowski administration. The lab will be used as a classroom for University of Alaska Southeast chemistry courses.

Love acknowledged operating the chemistry lab was expensive but said method development for tasks such as analyzing oil spills could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars if contracted to the private sector.

He said it will be difficult to find another job with the state as a chemist. He expects to have to move to Anchorage or the Lower 48 to find comparable work.

Love is one of 10 chemists at the lab who retired, was laid off or found another job.

Former state Sen. Jim Duncan, business manager for the 7,500-plus Alaska State Employees Association, state government's largest union, said he expected a greater number of layoffs but is more concerned about cuts slated next year.

Following the end of the legislative session, Gov. Frank Murkowski vetoed $138 million from the state budget, including about $112 million from the operating budget.

Frasca said the administration is looking to cut up to another $250 million from the budget next year. The cuts are largely due to declining oil revenues and Murkowski's promise to draw no more than $400 million from the state's savings account, the Constitutional Budget Reserve.

Duncan said much of the $138 million cut this year involves passthrough funds such as the $44 million cut from the longevity bonus to seniors and $22 million in revenue sharing for municipalities.

''If they follow through with the $250 million reduction, that is going to have a significant impact on our membership,'' Duncan said. ''We expect (layoffs) will continue and we can expect continued reduction in government.''

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