AUGUSTA, Maine — In a memo sent to members of his Cabinet on Wednesday, Gov. Paul LePage demanded that no new hire be made without his written approval.
There are more than 1,000 vacant positions throughout the executive branch. LePage had proposed eliminating many of those jobs in the new biennial budget, but the spending plan approved by the Legislature over LePage’s veto — which took effect Wednesday — got rid of far fewer than LePage wanted.
The governor said the new control he’s asserting over state hiring is temporary, pending a review of all vacant and new positions contained within the budget.
“Until I have an opportunity to review the information you submit [for that review], I want to personally approve all hiring decisions,” he wrote.
In the memo, first published by WMTW, LePage said that his department heads must fill out a new form before seeking to fill any vacant positions.
The “Hiring Justification Form,” attached to the memo, asks commissioners to provide an “explanation on the need of the position, and identification of alternatives considered for accomplishing the agency’s mission without additional hiring.”
LePage said commissioners may proceed in filling any vacant positions that are already posted and accepting applications, but could not post a new position without his consent.
The governor’s spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, said the move was an example of LePage’s efforts to make government more efficient.
“Effective chief executives think outside the box when it comes to additional hiring and saving money,” she said. “In this case, every taxpayer dollar counts and Gov. LePage will ensure there is an appropriate need and that alternative options have been considered prior to additional hiring.”
Rep. Peggy Rotundo, a Democrat from Lewiston and House chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, said LePage’s memo demonstrates a new level of micromanagement. Previous governors have given their commissioners discretion to fill positions as needed, she said.
But Rotundo’s larger concern is that funded positions would remain vacant, she said. For example, she cited several positions for public health nurses at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Those posts have been funded for years, she said, but LePage has never filled them.
Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, also is upset about the vacancies, but for a different reason than Rotundo. Timberlake, one of the GOP members of the Appropriations Committee who opposed the bipartisan budget, said the problem with vacancies is when they are unfilled, the departments often request to use funds allocated for the positions for other projects.
Instead of playing a shell game, Timberlake said, the state should cut the posts and save the money. But barring that, Timberlake said he supports the governor’s move to tighten the oversight of those positions.
“If I was the CEO of the state of Maine, I would want to start looking at these unfilled positions that we’re paying for, that are creating slush funds for the departments at the end of the year,” he said. “I think the governor is on track with this.”
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.