Size Ten State Governments Try on Size Four Wardrobes Governors Tout 'Downsizing,' but Critics Lament Decrease in Services

By Daniel B. Wood, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, March 13, 1996 | Go to article overview

Size Ten State Governments Try on Size Four Wardrobes Governors Tout 'Downsizing,' but Critics Lament Decrease in Services


Daniel B. Wood, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


GOV. William Weld (R) of Massachusetts wants to slash state Cabinet posts in half and eliminate almost 100 boards and commissions. Minnesota's governor wants to do away with one whole branch of the legislature. California is scrutinizing every service the state offers, looking for ways to trim.

More than anytime in a quarter century, America's 50 states are moving to tighten the belt. Besides lopping off personnel and agencies, new downsizing buzzwords are popping up almost daily. State-owned buildings, airports, and warehouses are going on the auction block.

While Washington has taken some modest steps toward shrinking the size of government, many states are quietly revolutionizing the way they do business - boosting efficiency but also laying off thousands of workers and stirring debate over what is an essential government service.

The trend is being driven to a certain extent by the expectation of less aid coming from Washington and the need to do more with less. But it also reflects a response to fist-pounding citizens who have had it up to their chins with waste and mismanagement.

"Since the reinventing government movement ignited in the early 1990s, there has always been a tension between those who wanted to merely cut government and those who wanted to remake it better," says Don Kettl, professor of public affairs at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Since the Republican revolution of November 1994, he says, "the cutters are winning out."

Whoever is winning, changes are being instituted. Idaho, Michigan, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and Nebraska are consolidating state services. Hawaii is planning to simplify its civil-service appointment procedures.

Georgia has created a bipartisan privatization committee to search out ways that nongovernmental bodies might be able to provide services cheaper.

The Midwestern states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio are taking the lead in streamlining welfare rolls with new formulas limiting eligibility. New York and New Jersey are taking high-profile looks at across-the-board cuts in all service agencies. Oregon, Washington, and Florida are targeting child and family-service agencies for greater flexibility.

"Any {measure} that requires fewer state employees - some obvious, some not - it's on the table," says Arturo Perez, an analyst for the National Conference of State Legislators in Denver.

The pressure to downsize is only likely to grow. If Washington enacts a seven-year plan to balance the federal budget, state leaders worry that they could feel the pinch in three or four years. …

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