Monday, January 20, 2003

Principal assistants targeted in budget cuts

The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - A Republican leader says the state could save millions by cutting 175 principal assistants whose salaries total $10.8 million a year.

The assistants are highly paid political hires whose jobs range from departmental spokespersons to mobile workers who respond to highway complaints.

Dan Kelly, R-Springfield, while conceding that some principal assistants perform valuable services, said the state could do without many of them without affecting essential services.

"Our position is that you eliminate them all - and the cabinets will find a way to fund those folks who are necessary," Mr. Kelly said.

On average, principal assistants make $62,000 a year. The salaries range from $38,605 to $109,123.

Gov. Paul Patton, who has to sign off on the hiring of all new principal assistants, said most of them don't have political ties. He also said many were hired by past governors, other statewide elected officials or various state boards.

"Yes, there are people in this administration who have worked in the political arena," Mr. Patton said, adding that he doesn't know of any "who are not qualified to do their job or whose salary is not justified."

"If the Republicans ever take over this job they will have friends, people in jobs, that have been involved in politics," Mr. Patton said. "To imply that all those people are in any way related to politics or my organization would be totally erroneous."

A review of Kentucky Registry of Election Finance records shows that 62 of the 175 principal assistants have contributed to Mr. Patton's gubernatorial campaigns or the Kentucky Democratic Party since Mr. Patton became governor in 1995.

Of 157 principal assistants whose names could be found in State Board of Elections data on registered voters, 147 are Democrats, seven are Republicans and three are independent or registered with another political party.

Julian Carroll, who became governor in 1974 and left office in 1979, said he created the jobs to help cabinet secretaries and department heads carry out the growing responsibilities of their offices.

"The workload had gotten so big - especially at that time when new federal programs were coming on line and we had to learn so many federal statutes," Mr. Carroll said.

But Mr. Carroll believes he hired only a few principal assistants for top officials. He said having 175 "is absolutely more than we envisioned."

The principal assistant positions are a small fraction of the 3,812 administrative jobs in state government that are filled by political appointment.

State Personnel Secretary Carol Palmore said a principal assistant is someone who assists a cabinet secretary, department commissioner or an office executive director. She said they aren't "line positions" within the chain of command, but assist people at the top of the chain.

State law gives each secretary, commissioner and executive director one principal assistant, Ms. Palmore said. But if officials want to hire a second one, they can request permission from the Personnel Cabinet secretary.

If they want a third, they can request permission from the state Personnel Board.

Records of the Personnel Cabinet show that during the past seven years, requests were made for about 60 new principal assistant jobs, and all were approved.

Mr. Kelly said the need for principal assistants should be carefully examined at a time when the legislature is considering spending cuts that might affect schools and other essential programs.

But Sen. David Karem, D-Louisville, said the issue is "whether employees, regardless of their titles, are doing their jobs. I support any real review of that."

Mr. Karem said Senate Republicans enlarged their staff when they became the majority. "What are those new people called, Republican assistants?" he asked.

Mr. Kelly conceded that Republicans have increased the size of the Senate staff, but he said more people were needed to provide independent research on the budget and other important issues. The time of the Legislative Research Commission's staff is dominated by the larger, Democrat-controlled House, he said.

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