By Jon Ortiz
Published: Monday, Apr. 9, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Monday, Apr. 9, 2012 – 7:02 am

California state government hired 25 percent fewer employees last year, according to new payroll figures, although departments still added thousands of workers while squeezing their budgets during the economic downturn.

Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown imposed a hiring freeze shortly after entering office last year, but allowed exemptions under certain conditions. The governor lifted the freeze as departments came up with alternative ways to cut their budgets.

Controller’s records analyzed by The Bee show the state hired 8,582 new workers in 2011, down from 11,407 during 2010, GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s last year in office. During the 14 months ending in February that Brown has been in office, the state hired 10,621 employees.

About half of the first-timers to state civil service took full-time work. The rest filled lower-paying part-time, seasonal or temporary jobs without benefits.

The downturn in hiring is another sign of the state’s continued fiscal distress and, along with a flood of boomers entering retirement, has produced a workforce that is about 6 percent smaller than two years ago.

“In some ways you’ve got to give the governor credit,” said Pepperdine University political scientist Michael Shires. “He’s proposed budget cuts and followed through with them.”

But given the state’s unrelenting budget crisis, now pegged at $9.2 billion through fiscal 2012-13, “it’s reasonable to ask whether those (hiring) numbers should have been even more severe,” Shires said.

In the first 14 months of Brown’s administration, the state’s median starting base pay was $2,280 per month, or $27,360 per year.

The state hired 295 individuals with a starting base pay of $100,000 per year: lawyers, doctors, psychiatrists and a smattering of gubernatorial appointees to various boards and commissions.

A month after taking office last year – and facing an even larger 2011-12 budget hole – Brown told departments with employees under his authority to stop hiring without a literal sign-off from his office. (The order didn’t apply to the Legislature, the judicial branch or the state university systems, which control their own employees. Their numbers are not included in the data.)

For several months after the Feb. 15, 2010 order, officials from across the state’s bureaucracy filled out request forms to hire for thousands of jobs, from office assistants to department deputy directors.

Department of Finance analysts reviewed the hiring requests and forwarded their up-or-down recommendations to Brown’s office, which authorized some and killed others.

The hiring freeze order also contained an incentive, noted Finance Department spokesman H.D. Palmer: Once a department submitted a plan to hit a prescribed savings target, it could resume hiring without administrative review. “But (the plan) had to pass muster with Finance,” Palmer said.

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