Labor Department to lay off 80 workers

TOPEKA — The government agency in Kansas that administers benefits for unemployed workers plans to lay off about 16 percent of its employees, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's administration said Friday.

The state Department of Labor expects to reduce its staff by between 80 and 85 workers, leaving 430 or fewer employees, with most of the layoffs coming in Topeka. Department spokesman Matt Manda said "fiscal necessity" required the staff cuts, which should be made by mid-July.

"In addition to having a smaller workforce, we are also implementing as many cost-saving measures as possible," Manda said, without giving specifics.

It's the first announcement of significant layoffs within state government since legislators approved and Brownback signed a $13.8 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. That budget reduces overall state spending by more than $900 million, or about 6 percent.

The governor also successfully urged legislators to eliminate almost 2,000 vacant state jobs, reducing agencies' hiring authority as he and legislators closed a budget shortfall.

The department confirmed the layoffs the same day it issued its monthly report on employment in Kansas that noted a slight decline in nonfarm jobs in May, compared with May 2010.

"The governor brags about how he's going to create all these private-sector jobs," said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka. "There are few private-sector jobs available for them to try to even find."

The Department of Labor's budget is due to drop 37 percent, from $1.15 billion to $728 million. The decline largely reflects a reduction in federal funds with the anticipated end of extended benefits for unemployed workers.

Manda couldn't say exactly how much money the department hopes to save through the layoffs.

"Until the entire process has run its course and things are finalized, we're not speculating on any exact figures," he said.