Gov. Kate Brown approves hiring freeze, other state cuts

Gov. Kate Brown signed an executive order Thursday that freezes the hiring of certain state employees for two months and reduces spending on state employee travel and building leases.

The governor did not hold a press conference for the signing. Chris Pair, a spokesman for Brown, could not provide estimated savings from the hiring freeze, but said the governor’s office has “a process to track the exact savings to inform budget negotiations.”

According to the executive order, the hiring freeze would take effect May 1 and continue through June 30 unless the governor extends it. The freeze will not affect those who “provide services critical to life, health or public safety, or that generate revenue.”

The order requires agencies to reduce travel expenses by at least 10 percent, with directors approving out-of-state trips only when essential to the agency.

The executive order also directs agencies to review their use of space, cutting down where possible. Pair said this could include re-negotiating leases, saving the state money.

The order follows changes Brown made in December. She required agencies to cut down on spending by halting non-essential travel and holding vacant positions open for two months before filling them. Matt Shelby, spokesman for the Department of Administrative Services, said these rules remain in effect through June 30.

Brown’s announcement Thursday came hours after Republicans called on the governor to institute an indefinite hiring freeze, which they said could save as much as $790 million over the next two years. Pair said Brown was not aware of the Republican plan until its Thursday release.

In her written announcement, Brown urged other elected officials, including the secretary of state and the attorney general to make similar cuts to agencies under their control.

“The entire state must take responsibility and join in this effort,” she said. “But, it will clearly not be enough just to tighten our belts. My office will continue to work tirelessly for an efficient, effective, and sustainable state government.”

In her statement, Brown said she would sign more executive orders over the next several days that would save the state money in other ways, including addressing public pension system funding, state debt collection, renegotiation of state vendor contracts and policies on bargaining with state employee unions.

The announcement comes as the state faces a $1.6 billion shortfall for the upcoming two-year budget cycle.

The spending restrictions Brown imposed Thursday would save the state money in the current biennium, which would leave extra money for the next budget cycle. Other cost-saving plans she plans to announce, like PERS reform or increased debt collections, would likely save the state money in future budget cycles.

With the legislative session halfway over, both Democrat and Republican lawmakers agree that both cuts and new taxes are necessary to fill the state’s budget gap.

The state budget committee will announce its own package of cost-saving measures on Friday. Meanwhile, Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, is working on a plan to replace Oregon’s corporate income tax with a flat tax on businesses’ sales.

— Anna Marum // 503-294-5911 // @annamarum